Grass is a breathtaking graphic novel about Korean comfort women by Keum Suk Gendry-Kim and translated by Janet Hong. I know, I had the same thought you just had, a graphic novel? About comfort women? Why?
But Gendry-Kim has told a heart wrenching story about Lee Ok-sun, whose life story includes being taken from her home in Korea, transported to China, and used as a sexual slave by Japanese soldiers during World War II. It’s hard stuff. Yet Gendry-Kim’s treatment of Lee Ok-sun is tender and touching. The pages following difficult content are covered in leaves and other natural scenes, or shrouded in heavy black brushstrokes–breathing room–for the story and for the reader.
We learn about Lee Ok-sun from girlhood, alongside jumps to the present, with the author meeting Granny Ok-sun and beginning to learn of her story. In the end, Lee Ok-sun is shaped by her experiences during war, by the trauma of war, but her story is one of resilience and forbearance. The graphics are expressive and moving, capturing the uncertainty, fear, and strength of the story, from the faceless soldiers who raped the women to tender moments between friends, Gendry-Kim captures it all. Beautifully paced and artful both literally in the drawings and figuratively in its storytelling, Grass is worth a read.