In Mary Lynn Bracht’s debut novel White Chrysanthemum, the sounds of the sea, the taste of salt and the cool breeze off the sea’s current permeate the world of Hana, a 12-year-old girl on Jeju Island, South Korea. Hana is becoming a haenyeo, the Korean word for female deep-sea diver. Hana has a younger sister, Emiko, or Emi for short, whom she dotes on. Hana’s mother has guided her on how to dive and breathe underwater. The author describes the mysteries of the deep ocean waters and the peace that diving has given Hana, but danger and disruption also linger in the background. White Chrysanthemum oscillates between two time periods — the Japanese occupation of South Korea (and much of Asia) in the 1940s during World War II, and 2011, when Emi is a much older woman, an omma and halmoni (Korean words for mother and grandmother) and a haenyeo herself. The novel describes the physical and deeply emotional distance between sisters who lead two very different lives separated by war, physical trauma and abuse, and geography. 


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