Grass by Keum Suk Gendry-Kim

“Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could.” ~ Abigail Adams, 1776

Over the past couple years, I’ve been trying to diversify my reads. Normally, I don’t pay much attention to the author unless I fall in love with the story first. Sex, age, ethnicity, of the writer never came into my thought process when choosing. I grab a book based on the description or recommendation from a friend. Sometimes, even just by the cover. ๐Ÿคซ I couldn’t tell you what the author looked like or even their names but I could write essays over the story alone.

Since I’ve been tracking my reads more diligently, I’ve noticed that the ones I enjoy the most are by Asian authors. No real surprise, I suppose, since some of my earliest favorites were by Julie Kagawa and Susan Ee. So when I heard about Monica Kim’s #Koreadathon, I was super excited! ๐Ÿ˜ All her recs sounded amazing and Grass was one of them.

Honetly, I’m a little early because Koreadathon isn’t supposed to start until March 7th but the library timing forced my hand a bit. Anyway, Grass is a manga that shows one woman’s life as a “Comfort Woman” during the Japanese occupation of Korea and throughout WWII. The story is an illustrated version, told by the author, covering her time interviewing Ms. Lee and Ms. Lee’s memories. I truly loved this style and the art was both beautiful and dreadful.

Grass is a powerful antiwar graphic novel, telling the life story of a Korean girl named Okseon Lee who was forced into sexual slavery for the Japanese Imperial Army during the Second World Warโ€”a disputed chapter in twentieth-century Asian history.

Beginning in Leeโ€™s childhood, Grass shows the lead-up to the war from a childโ€™s vulnerable perspective, detailing how one person experienced the Japanese occupation and the widespread suffering it entailed for ordinary Koreans. Keum Suk Gendry-Kim emphasizes Leeโ€™s strength in overcoming the many forms of adversity she experienced. Grass is painted in a black ink that flows with lavish details of the beautiful fields and farmland of Korea and uses heavy brushwork on the somber interiors of Leeโ€™s memories.

The cartoonist Gendry-Kimโ€™s interviews with Lee become an integral part of Grass, forming the heart and architecture of this powerful nonfiction graphic novel and offering a holistic view of how Leeโ€™s wartime suffering changed her. Grass is a landmark graphic novel that makes personal the desperate cost of war and the importance of peace.

Goodreads

As a westerner, Asian history wasn’t really taught so I’m only now learning of the atrocities that took place. Things like Nanking and “Comfort Women”. ๐Ÿ’” Grass is both blunt and unflinching but not without it’s humanity. It shows how degrading, debasing, and barbaric men can be towards women. But it also highlights these women’s fight to survive. To lean on each other and grasp at hope, no matter how fragile.

I know Mangas are a format that most westerners aren’t familiar with but I would recommend reading this a thousand times over. Prostitution and sexual slavery are nothing new in any part of the world, even today, but what happened to these women and how they were tricked or downright kidnapped and forced, is on a whole different level. And that needs to be talked about. So please, please, don’t let this one pass you by!

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