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Lola's House by M.Evalina Galang
We are immersed in paragraphs and passages which describe Filipino women's memories of their experience during the Second World War, when the Filipines was invaded by the Japanese.
We read of abductions into sexual slavery, the witnessing of atrocities against family members, the witnessing of rape and torture of other women and young girls in the 'camps' set up by the invading Japanese army.
The author is a researcher and she mixes passages from the survivors, with her own impressions of them and of their lives currently at Lola's House, where the women meet after a campaign to 'out' the atrocities of the war, supported by the Filipino media and international women's organisations.
The author, an American with Filipino ancestry, is clearly moved by the women and their lives. When she first goes to interview the women, she takes with her several young American girls who befriend the survivors and we also see the reactions of these young girls. I found this mix riveting and we really experience the girls' view of the women.
The survivors accounts are horrific.
The accounts are told by women now in their eighties and nineties, many of whom had never told their family members what they suffered. They kept their experiences a secret because of the shame piled on them by society after the war.
This was made more complicated (I understood) by the fact that many villagers fought as guerrillas and fled to the mountains, whereas the camps were in the cities and urban areas full of Japanese - therefore there were few actual Filipino witnesses who were not either imprisoned themselves or collaborators.
At the end of this book, I felt the most sadness over the fact that the women's hopes and campaigning for an official apology from the Japanese government, have not been realised - even after years of fighting for justice and with the backing of the US Senate.
The women are so old, there will be few left soon.
I found their courage in the telling of their stories deeply moving.
I was glad to be an honest witness to their experiences and felt the reading of the book to be an act of solidarity - in defiance of the lack of political will to recognise how terribly these women suffered at the time and then throughout their lives in the silence.
I also could not help thinking of the Japanese perpetrators and whether any of them are still alive. Since most of the women were abducted when they were young (12, 13, 14 years old...) and the soldiers were older, then I suppose this is unlikely.
The photographs in the book make each of the women more real.
Congratulations to the author for her work in documenting these important stories.
I give this book 5 stars for the women's stories.
I dropped it to 4 stars because of the style of documenting, in which the experiences are mixed in with reflections, campaigning, visits to the women's home villages - but this was not done in a linear manner and made it a little difficult at times to follow the threads.
The women felt very real to me and this is a book that will stay in my mind for a long time.
I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley. These are my honest views.
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