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.
Newcomer Park offers a graphic but stilted addition to the growing fiction (Nora Okja Keller's Comfort Woman, p. 161; Paul West's The Tent of Orange Mist, 1995, etc.) about Japanese exploitation of thousands of Asian women during WW II. Soon-ah's father, a Presbyterian minister, is murdered by the occupying Japanese, her mother is raped, and her elder brother is drafted and sent to fight in the Pacific. Then the 17-year-old Korean schoolgirl herself is dragged from the cellar where she's been hiding. Like her classmates, she is chosen to be one of "the Emperor's special gifts to the soldiers," a cynical euphemism for a cruel reality. Within days of their capture, Soon-ah and her friends are transported to a Japanese troopship bound for the Pacific war zone. Soon-ah, who narrates her own story, vividly describes the mass rapes by the drunken soldiers on board; the numbing life of bad food and daily multiple sexual encounters once at the camp; the outbreak of one disease after another; her own aborted pregnancy; and her growing friendship with Sadamu, a war correspondent, who interviews her so that he can expose the actions of the Japanese military. Eventually, Soon-ah is moved to a brothel that services only officers, and where conditions are slightly better, but Sadamu, now in love with her, suggests they escape. The two take a boat to a tropical island, but even it has been contaminated by war - they find and bury bodies of US Marines recently killed there. After the US Navy rescues them, the couple must part: Sadamu joins the OSS, and Soon-ah stays in Hawaii. At war's end, she's repatriated to a now-divided Korea for a bittersweet reunion with her remaining family. War crimes against women are memorably described here, but, sadly, by characters that seem more like one-dimensional witnesses than vibrantly complex fictional creations. (Kirkus Reviews)