A Gift of the Emperor is the poignant fictional account of real-life atrocities inflicted upon approximately 200,000 Asian women during World War II. This haunting story, inspired by recent revelations in the international media that have rocked Japanese society and reverberated throughout the world, is narrated by Soon-ah, a Korean schoolgirl. Soon-ah's world is shattered when Emperor Hirohito's soldiers abduct her from her village and ship her to a "house of relaxation" in the South Pacific. Here, on an island of almost lyrical beauty, Soon-ah is forced into prostitution as a "comfort woman" to the Japanese military. This scorching account of one woman's endurance of perhaps the most devastating horror of war - the callous brutality with which human beings can treat one another - provides compelling testimony to the strength of the human spirit, the power of love over hate, and the ultimate triumph of hope over despair.
In 1942, soldiers come to seventeen-year-old Soon-ah's school in Korea to recruit volunteers for the Women's Army of Japan. The girls are led to believe they will serve as nurses or entertainers for the Japanese troops. They also are led to believe they have a choice whether to enlist or not, but the girls soon find out that "volunteering" is mandatory and that they will be used as comfort women or prostitutes for the emperor's war-weary troops. Having witnessed the assassination of her father, the rape of her mother, and the forced conscription of her older brother, Soon-ah is well acquainted with Japanese brutality, still, she is not prepared for the cruelty she experiences. Once installed in the comfort house, the girls are forced to service thirty to forty soldiers a day. However, Soon-ah escapes the comfort house when she meets and falls in love with a Japanese war correspondent, Sadamu. The two escape to a deserted island in the Pacific, eventually are rescued by an American ship, and are separated. Soon-ah is sent to a detention facility in Hawaii and Sadamu is recruited by the OSS. Although an interesting storyline, the writing is only mediocre. The story does not flow naturally; it seems to be a collection of scenes rather than a unified story. Readers never get to know Soon-ah or Sadamu, to understand who they are and what motivates their thoughts and actions. The subject requires descriptions that are graphic and brutal, which the author delivers. However, Park is not graphic enough to give a true picture of the horrors these girls faced. George Hick's nonfiction book The Comfort Women (Norton, 1995) details how difficult the lives of these young women really were. Pregnancy and disease were rampant. Soon-ah, even with all the brutality she encounters, has a much easier time than the real-life comfort women did. This book fills a gap in the historical fiction of World War II, but it is not one I would recommend. VOYA Codes: 2Q 2P S (Better editing or work by the author might have warranted a 3Q, For the YA with a special interest in the subject, Senior High-defined as grades 10 to 12).