Authors: William Andrews
A COMFORT WOMAN’S STORY
Praise for DAUGHTERS OF THE DRAGON
William Andrews has created a masterpiece of fiction
- Midwest Book Reviews
I finished reading "Daughters of the Dragon" and remained still in my chair with the book in my lap. I was enveloped in the characters and their stories. Imagining the horrors that these women endured and the courage to confront those who perpetrated them...
The author's descriptive passages made me sense the beauty of the country, the desperation of war, and the humanity, good and evil, of each character.
- AMiB: Amazon Power Reviewer
Very emotional story that is hard to put down. Well-developed characters and vivid descriptions bring the experience to life. Reading this book provides a poignant look into the Korean culture and a true sense of the strength it takes to be a survivor.
-KE Burke” Barnes and Noble reviewer
It was powerful, unsentimental, and not gratuitous. I am beyond impressed. The reality of this story is still VERY raw across Asia, and it is important that it be told in order to understand the current relations between Japan and its neighbors.
-Rosanne: Goodreads Reviewer
Have you ever read a book that you don't want to end because it is that good? That is how I felt about Daughters of the Dragon: A Comfort Woman's Story. The author handles this difficult subject with great care; the story is captivating and well-paced.
-Minty Mom: Amazon reviewer
This was an awesome book, about something that you never hear of. The devastation is impossible for anyone to comprehend, and yet the courage and strength that these women had is fantastic. I HIGHLY recommend this book.
-Ryan Ober: Amazon reviewer
This book is both a tragic and triumphant telling of the atrocities that over 200,000 Korean women had to endure at the hands of the Japanese soldiers during WWII. It is an unforgettable story that for too long has not been told. The author provides historical information that is easily read and powerful. I highly recommend this book to everyone who loves to read and shares a thirst for knowledge.
-Karen Rogers: Amazon reviewer
AUGHTERS OF THE
© 2014 by William Andrews
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy.
Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Cover design by Suzanne Pfutzenrueter.
Library of Congress Control Number: 2014900030
ISBN: Print 978-0-9913958-5-9
house Press LLC
5904 Halifax Ave South
Minneapolis, MN 55414-1991
To order additional copies of this book, contact your on-line retailer or visit:
This book is available in print at most online retailers.
To my wife Nancy who always supported me in this and all my endeavors; to my daughter Elizabeth who inspires me; to all my family, friends, and colleagues who read the book and provided input; thank you.
“Honor does not stand alone.”
y first name
is a palindrome. When Mother was alive and I was in one of my moods, she would say, “I see we have the backward Anna today. I hope the forward Anna will come back soon.” I often wrote my name with the capital “A” at the end so when someone said I spelled it backward, I could say, “No I didn’t. It’s a palindrome.”
Since my name is the same backward as forward, I used to make fun of everyone else’s backward name. Mother was Nasus and Dad was Htennek, even though everyone called him Ken. My dog was Ydnas and we were the Noslrac family. I had to write the names backward so I could pronounce them, but Dad could do them in his head. It was truly amazing. You could give him any name and he’d immediately say it backward. Even long ones like Aunt Elizabeth. “Thebazile Tnua,” he’d say without missing a beat.
I was born in Korea twenty years ago and adopted by Htennek and Nasus when I was five months old. All I’ve ever known is life with my adoptive parents. But people constantly reminded me that I wasn’t their birth child. We didn’t look alike of course—I didn’t have Mother’s wavy auburn hair or Dad’s Nordic eyes. We had different personalities, too. Mother was fiery and impulsive, Dad was a stoic Scandinavian, and I was somewhere in between. Sometimes people would look at me with my Caucasian parents and ask dumb questions or say stupid things. It would upset my mother royally. Most times, she’d just ignore them and complain later about “insensitive, stupid people.” But once, when a waiter said I was “gourmet Asian take-out,” she went postal on him. She actually called him insensitive and stupid to his face. I was so embarrassed. I mean, he didn’t mean anything by it, although it really was a lame thing for him to say.
I didn’t think much about being adopted while I was growing up, and I didn’t think much about my birthmother, either. Most people think adopted kids like me have this need to connect with our biological roots so we can discover who we really are. They think being “take-out” is totally different than being “homemade.” But we’re not different at all. I mean, my birthparents were just my gene donors. My real parents were the ones who raised me, the ones who were there when I needed them, the ones who actually wanted me. And why should I have cared about my birthmother anyway? I had this perfect life—awesome parents, my studies at Northwestern, Chad Jenkins and his adorable smile. My Korean birthmother was a million miles away, probably raising the kids she’d decided to keep. I’m sorry, I didn’t care.
But everything changed when Mother died of pancreatic cancer. Dad was devastated. I had to drop out of Northwestern and move back home. Dad said I should stay in school, but I didn’t see the point. My heart wasn’t in it. I was going to be a senior and I still didn’t know what I wanted to major in. And Mother’s death shook me. For the first time in my life, I was afraid. I was afraid of making a mistake, heading in the wrong direction, and ending up like some other kids my age—adrift, directionless, a loser.
Back home, everything was so different. It was sad of course for Dad and me, but it was more than that. It was tragic, if you know what I mean. Every day Dad sat alone in the living room with the drapes closed and the lights off. When I got home from the grocery store or a jog, he’d ask how I was doing from inside his darkness. I’d lean against the kitchen door and we’d exchange some small talk. Then he’d make dinner wearing his grilling apron. I’d head to my room past my parents’ bedroom and sometimes I’d expect to see Mother inside. It was weird, and I realized that someday I’d have to come to grips with the fact that I didn’t have a mother anymore.
Except that I did—a million miles away. In Korea.
Adopted kids call our gene donors “birth parents” instead of “natural parents” or, God forbid, “real parents” so we don’t imply that our adoptive parents are somehow unnatural or not real. Growing up, people told me that my birthmother made the adoption decision because she loved me. That’s why we say, “adoption decision” rather than “give up for adoption.” The former supports the love theory—a thoughtful decision to do what’s best for the baby. Who knows? It might be true. But honestly, I don’t know for sure. And that’s why I decided to come to Korea and meet my birthmother.
So here I am, sitting in the lobby of this orphanage in the middle of Seoul waiting to meet her. It’s the place they brought me when I was three days old. It’s in a poor section of Seoul, which they somehow managed to avoid on the first ten days of our tour. The building is crumbling and sad and somewhere between gray and green. The other American families on our tour finished meeting with their birth families an hour ago and are hanging around waiting for me. They keep shooting looks at me as if it’s my fault they have to wait. Sorry people, but I don’t know what’s taking so long either. I want to get on with it way more than you do.
I made this photo album for my birthmother. I spent a ton of time on it. It’s the story of my life—from when I arrived from Korea in front of dozens of my family and friends at gate 33 of the Red Concourse of the Minneapolis St. Paul airport, to the last photo of me and Mother together, in the hospital the day before she died. I pasted each photo into the album just so and added captions in my very best handwriting.
I must say, it’s perfect. It has to be. I mean, think about it. If my birthmother really made the adoption decision out of love, then I want her to see that I turned out all right and she did the right thing. On the other hand, if she gave me up because I was just some inconvenience, well then I want her to see that she made a huge mistake. After all, I’m going to graduate from college someday and maybe even go on to grad school. I want her to believe that her little inconvenience grew up and is having an awesome life without her. Okay, so maybe I’m exaggerating, but it would be true if I could get my act together. Of course, she doesn’t need to know that.
My stomach is churning sitting here waiting. I’m so nervous I can’t stand it. Dad says we should ask someone why it’s taking so long, but before we can, an American social worker comes and tells us to follow her. From the pinched smile on her face, I can tell this isn’t going to be good. I grab my photo album and we follow her into a small meeting room with bad lighting. We sit at a rickety table. The social worker shakes her head. She isn’t smiling anymore. “Anna,” she says “I’m sorry to have to tell you this. You can’t meet your birthmother. You see, she died.”
I stare at her for what seems like forever. I’m not sure I heard her right. In fact, I’m not entirely sure if any of this is actually happening. “She’s dead?” I say.
The social worker nods. “I’m afraid so. I’m sorry.”
After I take a few seconds to process this tidbit, I ask how my birthmother died. The social worker, a large woman with straight gray hair, tells me she died twenty years ago, in labor—with me.
Perfect. I ask about my birthfather. The social worker opens a manila folder. She thumbs through papers and stops at a page. She tells me my birthmother wasn’t married when I was born and they don’t know who my birthfather is. I ask if I have any birth brothers or sisters. She says they don’t know. “Given the circumstances of your adoption,” she says, “it would be impossible to find out.”
Wonderful. The churning in my stomach turns into a knot. I feel like everything is crashing in on me. I want to scream at these people for not knowing about my birthmother. Instead, I look down at my photo album and run a finger along the words “My Life” written in my very best handwriting.
“How could this happen?” Dad asks, trying to help. “Why weren’t we told? Before we came here?”
“Mr. Carlson, they’re poorly funded here,” the social worker says. “They’re understaffed and they can’t always check the facts.”
“Anna’s been looking forward to this meeting for months,” Dad says.
The social worker does something between a nod and a shake of her head. “I know. We just found out. I’m so sorry.”
Dad looks at me. “Maybe I should talk to the orphanage director.”
I just want out of here before this train wreck gets any worse. “Let’s just go,” I say. I grab my photo album and leave.
I walk into the orphanage lobby and head for the exit. Everyone’s staring at me. They want to know what happened, why they postponed my meeting for so long, and why it lasted only a few minutes. I don’t look at them. It’s none of their business what happened to me. I clutch my photo album to my chest and realize it shows that I didn’t get to meet my birthmother. I see a wastebasket in a corner and go for it. But when I get there, I can’t throw it in. I spent so much time on it.
I walk out the front door. It’s hot and muggy in Seoul. The bright haze hurts my eyes. Off to the side, our tour bus is idling. Diesel fumes invade my nose. I turn away and close my eyes. I can’t believe this is happening to me. What a disaster. I feel so incredibly stupid for coming here. What else could possibly go wrong in my life?
After a few minutes, I turn to go to the bus. There, standing in front of me is an old woman with a thick braid of gray hair. She’s pressing a package into my hand. She leans in close and whispers, “This is for you. Do not show it to anyone. It is important that you hear my story so you know what it means. There is an address inside. Come alone.”
I look at the package, then back at the woman who’s hurrying away. “Wait!” I shout. She doesn’t stop and disappears inside the orphanage. I look again at the package in my hand. It’s a little larger than a billfold, wrapped in a faded brown cloth, tied closed with twine. I start to open it, but Dad comes out of the orphanage looking for me. Behind him, the other families are heading to the bus, doing a bad job of trying not to stare at me. Dad puts a hand on my shoulder and tries to reassure me with a smile. I slip the package in my purse and we follow the other families onto the bus.
As we head back to our hotel, I can only think about my birthmother. I wanted to talk to her, make a connection, you know? I wanted to see what I’ll look like in thirty years. Well, at least I got one of my questions answered. There was no adoption decision—not out of love or out of convenience either. No. I was put up for adoption because I killed my birthmother. How nice.
I look out the window at the streets of Seoul. It’s rush hour and everyone’s heading home. I wonder what it would’ve been like if my birthmother had lived. I’d be one of them—a homemade Korean instead of gourmet Asian takeout living in America. I’d speak their language, listen to their music and think like a Korean.
Maybe I wouldn’t be so cursed.