Haunting the Korean Diaspora // Grace M. Cho.

Do silences speak? Do they suffocate? And what lurks in silences that terrifies us? Scarred by her mother’s silences, Grace M. Cho sought to find the impetus of her mother’s — and, in the process, her people’s — horrifying past. What she found stunned her: there’s a ghost, not in the closet, but seared on bodies.

Yanggongju is one of many derogatory terms for sex workers in U.S. military bases. But she is phantasmic and elusive: the most reliable documents or sources are traumatic memories, which are inherently fragmentary. So, Cho devotes many early chapters to put flesh on this ghostly figure. Who are they? Forgotten women forced or lured into military bases for soldier’s sexual gratification. Some women were “lucky” enough to get married and immigrate to the States; others were burned, killed, and forgotten.

This is the ugly side of an ugly war — the Korean War. This is the ugly side of a complicated relationship — between South Korea and the U.S. This is the ugly side of humanity.

This was a difficult book to read for two reasons: (1) the content is hard to swallow, and (2) the form or structure has, I think, choppy or clunky flow. I cautiously recommend this book. She seems, at times, unapologetically anti-U.S. or anti-U.S. military, which comes down to personal rhetoric and nuance. So, read with a grain of salt.