White Chrysanthemum

Winner of the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain Best First Novel Award, Prix coup de cœur Saint-Maur en Poche 2018 and the 2019 Waverton Good Read Award. Finalist for the 2019 Dayton Literary Peace Prize.

In the spirit of Lilac Girls, the heartbreaking history of Korea is brought to life in this deeply moving and redemptive debut that follows two sisters separated by World War II.

Korea, 1943. Hana has lived her entire life under Japanese occupation. As a haenyeo, a female diver of the sea, she enjoys an independence that few other Koreans can still claim. Until the day Hana saves her younger sister from a Japanese soldier and is herself captured and transported to Manchuria. There she is forced to become a “comfort woman” in a Japanese military brothel. But haenyeo are women of power and strength. She will find her way home.

South Korea, 2011. Emi has spent more than sixty years trying to forget the sacrifice her sister made, but she must confront the past to discover peace. Seeing the healing of her children and her country, can Emi move beyond the legacy of war to find forgiveness?

Suspenseful, hopeful, and ultimately redemptive, White Chrysanthemum tells a story of two sisters whose love for each other is strong enough to triumph over the grim evils of war.

Look Inside


“Elegantly written, emotionally shattering, and historically accurate, White Chrysanthemum is a feat of literary alchemy. Mary Lynn Bracht reveals the unfathomable cruelty of Japanese sex slavery during World War II through the unbreakable love of Korean sisters.” –Blaine Harden, New York Times bestselling author of Escape from Camp 14

“A captivating, controlled and devastating book about the lives of two Korean sisters during the Second World War… Allows us to look at the immediate travesty of the so-called “comfort women” and the unresolved consequences of sexual slavery for the victims’ families. Brave, bold, important, this book is beautifully written with characters that will stay with you long after the final, unforgettable paragraph.” –Jackie Copleton, Bailey’s longlisted author of A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding

White Chrysanthemum is a powerful account of a little discussed subject about the Second World War — comfort women enslaved by the Japanese army — but it’s also about the courage of the women involved who want to speak about their suffering and their cry for justice, peace and love. Hana’s tragic life is just one of an estimated 200,000 Korean comfort women’s stories. Beautifully written, it’s an impressive debut novel from a writer with a sensitive heart and gifted mind.” —Xiaolu Guo, author of A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers

“A suspenseful and eye-opening historical work reminiscent of Christina Baker Kline’s Orphan Train, Jamie Ford’s Songs of Willow Frost, and Lisa Wingate’s Before We Were Yours.” Library Journal (starred)

“I read Hana and Emi’s story with my heart in my mouth. A bold, devastating, important novel shot through with hope and beauty.” —Rachel Joyce, New York Times bestselling author of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

“Masterfully crafted, Bracht’s mesmerizing debut novel is rich with historical detail and depth of emotion. This is a memorable story about the courage of Korean women during the Second World War.” —Publishers Weekly 

“A debut novel about the Korean ‘comfort women’ prostituted by Japanese soldiers in World War II—and the strong bond between two sisters separated by the conflict. … The book’s author, an American of Korean descent, writes well—the passages describing the sisters’ early lives are quite lyrical—and she’s adept at weaving in historical material about Korea and its fraught relationship with Japan.” — Kirkus Reviews 

“This captivating and heartbreaking debut novel honors the many thousands of women who were enslaved through WWII.” Booklist

“A timeless, heart wrenching, emotionally powerful tale that will resonate with readers… Its message will not be easily forgotten.” —RT Book Reviews

“A psychologically acute, emotionally resonant novel. . . . [R]ich with historical detail, White Chrysanthemum is a compelling and important account of civilian women’s lives during wartime.” BookPage

Goodreads Reviews

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My local bookshop: West End Lane Books

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86 thoughts on “White Chrysanthemum

  1. Your book “White Chrysamthemum” is being super well accepted in its recent brazilian version for a book club. I’m almost finishing the read and gotta say: it sure is a dense and emotional text, but your writing makes it a pleasant experience as well. I hope the arrangement was so the publisher releases it later in their own version for the wide public.

    Best regards!

  2. Hi! Just been reading the book and it was lovely! One question though. In the translation to my language the women describes as prostitute (in the end of the book) but my feeling is that the description should be sexslave. What did you write? Best regards Jonas

      1. Hi Mary Lynn! Thanks for reply! But just for my understanding, did you ever in the book describes them as prostitutes? BR Jonas

      2. No that was the whole reason I wrote this book. They were not prostitutes. I wrote an authors note at the end that explains this. Was this in your version? Can you tell me which translation you have? Thank you!

      3. There is authors note at the end that explains this. I will come back to you regarding the use of ”prostitutes” in the book and where to find it. There is a use of ”prostitutes” but I think it’s right due to it said by an japanese or russian.

  3. Congratulations on your debut novel . A-M-A-Z-I-N-G !!!! I read it as soon as it was released …., seems eons ago . I have been surfing the net regularly to see when your next book will be released and haven’t had any luck . Mary Lynn , please put me out of my misery and say there is a release date .

    1. Hi Debbie, thanks so much for your message! Alas, I am still writing the next one. I will definitely post here when it’s done. In the mean time, I’ve just read Kim Ji-young, Born 1982
      Novel by Cho Nam-ju and Mouthful of Birds short stories by Samantha Schweblin—both are wonderful reads— I highly recommend them. Take care of yourself in these uncertain times. ❤️

  4. I loved your book so much that I read it in 3 days and am about to read it again. I cannot get enough of it. When will you come out with your next book? You write so magnificently!

    1. Hi Jasmin, thank you so much! What a wonderful message to receive over the holidays 🙂 I’m working on my next book right now. Hopefully it won’t be too long! Have a fabulous New Year!

      1. As a HUGE fan, the news that you are working on your next book is a wonderful holiday gift. Can you give any hints as to topic or release dates?

  5. Wow!!!
    First book?!! What a gifted writer you are. Thank you for a painful beautiful story with strong women at the core I could not put down. Just truly such a good book.

  6. Read your book white chrysantemum, swedish version. So inspiring, so vividly describing those women’s lives. Very well and beautifully written story. A historical lesson we should learn from.

  7. Please let all of your fans know when we can expect another FANTASTIC book from you. I’ve now read White Chrysanthemum 3 times for three book clubs. It keeps getting better and better!

    1. Hi Judi, thank you for your message! I love that you read WC three times for three book clubs, that’s amazing 🥰 I’m still working on my next book. After writing White Chrysanthemum, I’ve learned that I have to take my time so the story can truly develop and I can ensure I get everything in I hope to include. Fingers crossed it will be ready for publication next year. Thank you and have a fabulous day! X

      1. Mary Lynn; I just completed White Chrysanthemum and was so moved by the story. The story was vividly presented and well written. The style of the story alternating between the sisters provided a point/counterpoint view which increased the poignancy of the tale.

        I do have one question related to the Author’s note where you list countries where you reported on wartime rape. Could you explain to me when war time rapes occurred in Palestine? Did these occur during the lead up to 1948? Is this something which occurred during recent conflicts? I have never seen anything reported in the press nor in historical accounts.

        Many thanks.

      2. Hi Leah, thank you for your comment! I’m so glad you enjoyed the book. Yes the war rape of women and girls in Palestine was during the 1948 war. It’s a controversial issue, with inconsistencies on both sides, but historical and military accounts survive, reporting of the rape of women and girls during that conflict. There’s a lot of information available if you research it, but due to religious and political issues, neither side wishes to openly address it. The victims are often silenced, their voices never heard, drowned out by the presiding voices of the men (on both sides) who caused the war.

      3. I have just finished your book and I loved it. It was so well written and a joy to read. I can’t recall when I last cared about a range of characters in this way. I look forward to your next publication.

        I first heard of the abhorrent true history of comfort women through the work of the incredible singer / song writers Chris While and Julie Matthews. If you aren’t familiar with their work then the song Take These Bones on the album, Together Alone is an amazing tribute to comfort women. That song led me to buy and read your book.

        Thank you.

  8. Having taught in Japan, I was intrigued by your book’s cover and honestly thought it was about the Japanese pearl divers when I saw it. Then I read the synopsis on the back cover. I purchased White Chrysanthemum and couldn’t put it down! I will tell you I do a lot of reading for work, and this is NOT the type of book I would usually read for pleasure. I was drawn in from the start. First, I knew nothing about this and I couldn’t begin to imagine what these girls went through. You brought Hana and Emi to life for me. The light and the dark – although at the end Hana finds her light. I have since done research on the hanenyeo and the comfort women, and I continue to learn more. I can’t wait for your next book!

  9. Just finished White Chrysanthemum. Brava! Incredibly moving and well written. Hope you’re working on your next one!

  10. Dear Ms. Bracht,
    allow me to introduce myself. I am an Italian writer. I mainly write novels and short stories. I am the Executive Secretary of an International Society for Contemporary Literature and Theatre, which holds a yearly conference in order to debate a chosen theme. It simply happened that I chose your novel White Chrysanthemum, searching on the internet, since I was looking for a book about the theme “Memory” that we had chosen for 2019. I would like you to know how much I have been impressed and touched by your novel. Beautifully written, it has hooked me from the very beginning, not only emotionally but also because I loved your style. This is why I will present a talk about it during our next literary conference.
    I would like to thank you for the emotions you provided and for presenting a theme of immense suffering that so many people have so far ignored, at least in Europe.
    Kind regards

    Marina Catalano-Mc Vey

    1. Hi Marina, thank you so much for your comment! I’m so pleased you enjoyed reading my novel and honoured you’re presenting it at your conference. I hope it goes well. I’m so thankful you found my book and that more people are interested in East Asian history and the ‘comfort women’. Very best wishes and Happy New Year! —Mary

      1. Dear Mary,

        I must admit my ignorance concerning East Asian History. We all know about the horrors during wars and conflicts, the brutality perpetrated against the weakest, old people, women and children, the daily violence against women everywhere in the world. But this theme, the comfort women, is so atrocious because it was planned and organized in details and the traumatic effects are still present in many souls. How disgusting! Young girls and women treated like objects for pleasure! Your book portrays these girls in a way that they are given back their rights to exist as persons, as human beings. It is deeply touching. Moreover, I have greatly appreciated the “technical” part of your novel. A wonderful reading. I will let you know in August how the participants in our conference will react to my talk.
        All the best and Happy New Year to you.

  11. One of the most amazingly written books I’ve read in a long time. I only cry when I’m really moved by something special and I cried. You opened up an interest in Korea that I’d not heard of before, apart from the Korean War and I’ve read more since reading your book. I met a young Korean woman when I was doing further education a few years ago and we bonded immediately, a beautiful person but she always seemed so sad. If her parents, or grandparents, grew up in that era she probably also grew up with these stories. I now understand why she was often sad. It’s such a pity that more of these stories are not heard. I hope you will write more please.

    1. Hi Jan, thank you for your comment! Korean stories are often heartbreaking, as stories from most war torn countries are, and I’m so glad I could share this one with so many readers. I’m happy to hear you’re reading more about S. Korea’s fascinating history. I also hope your Korean friend finds her place in this world, one that brings her happiness. Happy holidays Jan! Wishing you all the best ❤️🤗

  12. Dear Mary,
    Thank you for such an inspiring novel. Your prose made me cry multiple times. And your introduction to the culture of the Haeneyo instills in me the deepest respect, not only for your country(wo)men, but all who have suffered through a war. You have also painted such a wonderful portrait of the familial love shared by Emi, her parents, her sister and her children. At the risk of repeating what has already been said by everyone above: I truly enjoyed your book!
    More importantly, thank you for bringing to the surface the story of millions of women who to this day share a common struggle. If it is anything I can do to make an impact, I will recommend your book to everyone I know.

  13. Dear MS. Mary Lynn Brach

    My name is Paola Folicaldi Suh, I am an Italian painter and portraitist. ‘A Blue Garden’ is my last work, where I in 16 paintings describe the life of the Haeneyo; the underwater women from Jeju Island, South Korea.

    In the process of my work I felt their love for the sea. I followed their lives, spent collecting algae and molluscs in the deep water. I read the fatigue and the strength of being Haeneyo in the folds of their faces.
    My paintings are an act of love and admiration towards the community of these women.

    Please review the following link and please come back to me with your feedback.

    Thank you
    Paola Folicaldi Suh

    1. Hi Paola, thank you for sharing your work with me. Your paintings are beautiful and you’ve truly captured the essence of the haenyeo. I met a few of them on Jeju Island last summer and they are present in your work. The presentation is excellent as well. I love the patterned prints! What made you choose to focus on the haenyeo? Such an interesting choice and one I so glad you made. Very beautiful. Thank you! 🙏

    2. Dear Mary

      Thank you for your kind words.

      As you write to understand the world and people, I do the same with my painting.

      I have read your book with a great emotion after I have completed my “bleu garden” collection.

      I hope we could meet someday? I think we have much to say between us.

      I am now planning for “bleu Garden” exhibitions 2019/2020. It is in process. There will be a Premiere at the Haenyeo National Museum in Jeju island in May 2019 and then it will probably go to Paris.

      I am very much interested to find a way we could collaborate in the future.

      Whenever there are opportunities from my side, I will not hesitate to contact you.

      Thank you

      Kind regards

      Paola Folicaldi Suh

      On Thu, Nov 22, 2018 at 1:40 PM Mary Lynn Bracht wrote:

      > Paola Folicaldi Suh commented: “Dear MS. Mary Lynn Brach My name is Paola > Folicaldi Suh, I am an Italian painter and portraitist. ‘A Blue Garden’ is > my last work, where I in 16 paintings describe the life of the Haeneyo; the > underwater women from Jeju Island, South Korea. In the ” >

    1. I know how important feedback is so here it is and I will make it simple: I have read over 70 books in the last 6 months or so, this is the best one. Thank you.

  14. You are truly are an amazing author. Your style is simply beautiful. This incredible story captivated me. I couldn’t put the book down. Hana and Emi were in my heart all the way. You had a much better ending than I imagined. My heart goes out to all the girls that suffered such a fate.

  15. I bought White Chrysanthemum after hearing you at the Edinburgh International Book Festival last month. I read the book on way to and while I was in Jeju earlier this month for work. The characters are beautifully drawn and I can understand why you didn’t want Hana to disappear into oblivion, even if that must have been the fate of so many women who were in her situation. Emi is such a strong woman, bearing all the challenges and difficulties life has thrown at her.

    While I was on Jeju I visited the Jeju 4.3 Peace Park – this year is the 70th anniversary of the Uprising and Massacre, something you refer to in your novel. Is this something you think you would explore in a future book?

    I’ve been recommending your book to friends and colleagues and I would like to hear what kind of reception White Chrysanthemum gets in South Korea.

    1. What a wonderful trip you must have had on Jejudo! I loved the island when I visited and would love to go back again. I don’t have current plans to write more on the subject of the massacre. (But I won’t rule it out!) I don’t know what the reviews in S. Korea are for White Chrysanthemum yet, but I’m sure they’ll start coming in soon. Thank you for your comment! I’m so pleased you could visit the Peace Park. I’m sure it was a memorable experience. ❤️

  16. I LOVED this book and hope to present it to my book club soon. I did have a question. You often mentioned an injury or limp to Emi’s leg but I never could find the cause. Could you explain, please.

    1. Hello! I’m pleased you enjoyed reading my book 🙂 Like many older haenyeo, Emi suffered from arthritis and possibly a past injury, but it never made it into the storyline. Many haenyeo her age suffer from aches and pains that can’t be referred back to a specific event. In her case, her body was heavy with pain, but in the sea, she found freedom from old age, returning to her youth.

      1. Could you tell me how to pronounce hyaenyeo. I want to be correct at my book club presentation. I’m reading this for the second time and it’s even better than the first , if that could be possible.

      2. If you copy/paste 해녀 into Google translate, the audio reader will pronounce it for you. It’s a wonderful translation tool! The best I could do phonetically is: hen-nyuh (I hope your presentation goes well!!!)

  17. Hi Mary, I really loved reading your book, the story is so emotional and wonderful that i was deeply touched and so moved at the same time. For me this novel is my favorite and i just had to have your novel because you written it so well really simply witn a heartbreaking story.
    I really want to know if you plan to write another novel?
    Thank you so much for this amazing and wonderful novel!!

    1. Hi Line, thank you so much for your comment! I’m so pleased you enjoyed reading my book! I’m writing my next novel right now as a matter of fact, and I hope you will enjoy it too. 🤗❤️

  18. I’m just finishing your book and do not want it to end. Please write more books. I would love a sequel on Hana.

  19. I chose your book for a book discussion at my public library and am wondering if there are any discussion questions?

  20. Thank you for writing this unforgettable historical fiction, Mary Lynn Bracht. As soon as I finished reading this novel, I immediately went back to the library to search more of your works, only for find out that this is your first novel and it is very new.

    I hope that the motion picture industry will grab this emotionally packed historical novel. I can hardly wait to see it! Will there be a sequel to White Chrysanthemum? I would love to see what Hana and Altan’s future holds for them.

    1. Hi Zenas, Many thanks for your comment! I don’t have a sequel planned at the moment. I hoped to leave it up to you to imagine what happened to Hana in Mongolia to keep her from returning. So many ‘comfort women’ never made it back home, and all of their stories are varied and lost to us forever. I’m working on something new and hope it will come out soon!

  21. You captured me from the first page and I couldn’t put it down until finished. The book was very well written. Thank you for bringing this part to life.

  22. Thank you for such a wonderful book. I had heard of “comfort women” but your book made it very real. I felt a kinship with both Hana and Emi.

  23. This book captured my heart from the very beginning. The deep love and devotion that Hana has for Emi is beautiful and tragic at the same time. All that Hana endured, and yet, she never gave up. Then she meets Atlan….she’s afraid to trust him, yet she senses something honest and pure about him. And then it’s Atlan who saves her…..I was in tears. Such a tragic, yet beautiful story.

      1. just your read your book omg such a great book…couldnt put down..put on Facebook for all my book friends..been telling everyone I have to spread the word

  24. What an incredible story. After reading a few chapters each morning I felt myself carrying these characters with me in my heart for the rest of the day. Tragic and beautiful, it really touched me. The moment where Hana remembers her sisters laugh and when Emi sits to hold her sister hand, felt so powerful. I was overwhelmed with emotion. Thank you for the gift of this story. It’s important. A history that must not be forgotten. Congratulations on writing a truly brilliant book.

  25. What an amazing novel. I thoroughly enjoyed your book. I am a lover of historical fiction and found this book mesmerizing. I could not put it down. Thankfully, today was Mother’s Day and I was able to spend my entire day reading and finishing this book. I certainly appreciate all of the detail and the depth of the characters. I hope to read many more of your novels. I have already recommended your book several of my friends.

    1. Thank you Tracy! I’m so pleased you enjoyed reading my novel and had an entire day to do so. (I did the same thing and finished reading a book I truly loved.) Happy Mother’s Day! 😊❤️

  26. I am a french reader of your wc book titled in french “the woman of the sea”. I really loved it and it was my pillow book during the last 3 days and nights…..I felt so close to Hana during those 3 days of torture that it was a real relief to know that she could find a mongol angel to take care of her. Her statue was a true emotional moment. Thank you for sharing this part of history that is not very known.

  27. Hello Mary, first sorry about my English i’m French student, and secondly i just wanted to say thank you, i just finished the book and i was so touched by Hanna, and i question myself about the others girls stayed in house. I just want to get Hanna out of this book and give her all the tenderness she didn’t have. It may be a novel but to know that it is the real story of thousands women turning my stomach around. I think I’ll fall asleep leaving the book beside my pillow, otherwise I’ll feel like i’m leaving Hanna alone. (yes I am very attached to the character yet). I hope she will find hapiness with Altan, i really liked this characters too. So kind, et so sweet that make me fell good inside a lot of horror and violence.


    1. Thank you so much Lisa, I love your comment! I teared up thinking about my book beside your pillow because the image that entered my mind was of Hana lying there instead. What a welcome place that would be for her. Thank you 🙏 🤗❤️

  28. Tears spilled through the night as I completed your brilliant novel. Mary Lynn Bracht, the world will be indebted to you for sharing your deeply researched novel about Hana and Emi. With knowledge comes power, and the more people who know this history the better, and you will help history from repeating itself. Since sex slavery still persists, your novel can help eradicate this atrocity. On behalf of your readers, we appreciate your generous gift of White Chrysanthemum! Thank You! Please, please, please continue to write! You are definitely a gifted author. Blessings to you and your family.

    1. Hi Barbara, thank you so much for your message! I’m so pleased you enjoyed reading Hana’s story. I am definitely working on another book. Thank you! 😊❤️

  29. I have known about comfort women for years, having been immersed in stories of WWll almost from birth: I was born in 1941 in the German-occupied Netherlands. Dutch girls and women from Dutch-colonized Indonesia were also used as comfort women. Having edited some collected wartime memories of older Dutch immigrants to Canada, it seems to me that Japanese atrocities were possibly even worse than those of the Nazis (although, how can total evil be compared to total evil?). Your “fiction” represents real truth that needs to be remembered by future generations. Your book about Hana and Emi is so shatteringly true, I marvel at how you managed to capture the depths of wartime desolation, of a generation well before your time. Sadly, comfort women are an ongoing evil, as recent mass kidnappings of schoolgirls show once again.
    Irrelevant detail and nosy question: your mother was Korean. The name Bracht could be Dutch. ?
    Anne van Arragon
    Nova Scotia, Canada

    1. Thank you so much for your comment. It must have been a difficult task editing the war histories for the Dutch immigrants. I can only imagine the terrible stories you have read. I’m pleased my story rang true for you. I too find it a sad reality that so many girls and women continue to be trafficked today. It’s a shocking truth, but one that we need to made aware of for the sake of the victims and survivors.

      Bracht is German (my married surname). I was born Simmons, which I believe is English. Best wishes to you, Anne!

  30. I just finished White Chrysanthemum and have one question. Did I miss the story of what happened to Emi’s leg?

  31. Thank you so much for writing this book, its a very important book. Our grandmothers histories should never be forgotten. All women genetically “feel” your words no matter how old or young. Your words beautifully bring to life wonderful Korea of yesterday — also thank you for giving Hana a way of peace, even by doing so we all understand it would probably not have been so, but gave us hope for our grandmothers and our daughters and their daughters. I hope you will continue to write and thank you also for the history lesson and the further reading list. I have been blessed with opportunity to have lived in Korea and it has never left my soul i will always feel a part of me is there. Thank you again. Your book to me, is a book of Hope.

  32. I just finished WHITE CHRYSANTHEMUM and enjoyed it so much. I have already c9ntacted my sisters and friends with s reccomendation that they read it. Thanks for an amazing, informative story. I sat up all last night t9 finish reading it. Very sad, but intriguing book.

  33. Thanks so much for this amazing book. I am ashamed to say I have never heard of the comfort women. My husband and I talk often about the need to teach more history in school. Most children today know nothing about history. I remember being taught ancient history in high school when we should have been learning about WW 2, the Korean War etc.
    Thank you, thank you, thank you for allowing Hana to live. As the book progressed I thought over and over-please let Hana live.
    I plan to read some of your suggested books and will share this story with friends.

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