GRASS by KEUM SUK GENDRY-KIM
A REVIEW by ALEXA DUNCAN
This is another week, dear readers, where I’m kind of cheating a bit. Grass isn’t necessarily a new book (it was published in 2019), but it’s new to the library and I wanted to review it, so here we are. Grass by Keum Suk Gendry-Kim is a graphic novel following the harrowing story of Lee Ok-sun, a Korean “comfort woman” during World War II. If you don’t know what “comfort women” were, they were largely Korean women forced to serve as sexual slaves for the Japanese army during the second World War, when Korea was occupied by Japan. They lived in “comfort houses,” where soldiers would regularly frequent. To learn more about comfort women, click here.
Grass is a harrowing story, but it is a necessary one. Told in a “frame narrative” with the author of the book interviewing Ok-sun, often called “granny” throughout the book, as she looks back upon her life and tells her story. Grass takes a little known yet incredibly brutal piece of history and makes it easily accessible for YA readers. It is hard to read at times, and the black-and-white minimal art style really brings home just how brutal Granny Ok-sun’s story is, but I found myself entranced by the narrative regardless.
Grass tells such a personal story that I would be remiss to review it without acknowledging how powerful the narrative is. I’ve known about the history of “comfort women” (read: sex slaves) for awhile now but these histories never felt so personal until I read Grass. Grass is a powerful non-fiction story. Everything you read in it is true. Ok-sun really did have to leave her home when she was a girl to enter into servitude. She really did have to sell herself to Japanese soldiers under the guise of being a “comfort woman.” When she and the other comfort women were liberated after Japan’s defeat during the war, Ok-sun got married–and was promptly abandoned by her husband.
Lee Ok-sun’s life was a brutal one and my heart broke after every page. Despite the subject matter, Grass is not overly graphic. It doesn’t shy away from topics like rape and abuse, but it doesn’t feel the need to sensationalize these things, either. There is one instance where Ok-sun is raped, but the scene fades to black–and that feels even worse to the reader as we flip through pages of blacked-out panels. There’s despair in these details and while I didn’t necessarily enjoy Grass, I definitely appreciated it for bringing a face to the horrible history of comfort women.
Grass is a must-read and you can pick up our copy at the Argenta Library today.