The best books about the painful ordeals of the “comfort women” enslaved by the Imperial Japanese military

Why am I passionate about this?

A professor of Chinese and Japanese, Asian Studies, and Women’s Studies at Vassar College, my research has focused on the cross-cultural fertilization between Chinese and Japanese literary traditions. I’ve published widely on the subject, including a book, Bashô and the Dao: The Zhuangzi and the Transformation of Haikai. I began research on the “comfort women”—victims of Imperial Japan’s military sexual slavery during the Asia Pacific War (1931-1945)—in 2002  when working with a Vassar student on her thesis about the “comfort women” redress movement. Since then, I’ve worked closely with Chinese researchers and local volunteers,  interviewing the eyewitnesses and survivors of the Japanese military “comfort stations” in China, and visiting the now-defunct sites.

I wrote...

Chinese Comfort Women: Testimonies from Imperial Japan's Sex Slaves

By Peipei Qiu, Su Zhiliang (contributor), Chen Lifei (contributor)

Book cover of Chinese Comfort Women: Testimonies from Imperial Japan's Sex Slaves

What is my book about?

During the Asia-Pacific War, Imperial Japanese troops imprisoned hundreds of thousands of women and girls across Asia in military ianjos (comfort stations), calling them “comfort women” and subjecting them to daily rape by multiple men. This dark phase of history remained largely unknown to the world for decades after WWII.

This book is the first English-language account to expose the full extent of the horrors suffered by “comfort women” drafted from China during the Japanese occupation. The history of the “comfort women” system and the story of the survivors’ fight for justice are told through extensive archival research, investigative reports, local histories, and witnesses’ accounts. The book also provides English translations of twelve comfort station survivors’ testimonies, recorded in their native languages by my collaborating researchers Su Zhiliang and Chen Lifei. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Comfort Women

Peipei Qiu Why did I love this book?

This book is essential reading on the “comfort women” issue. Originally published in Japanese in 1995, it has inspired many readers to look more deeply into the history of Imperial Japan's wartime “comfort women.” I consulted this book frequently in my own research and writing about the subject. The book provides a wealth of documentary evidence and first-person testimonies, convincingly proving the Japanese military’s direct involvement in setting up and administering the comfort stations. This English edition includes introductions by both the author and the translator, making the story accessible for English-speaking readers. 

By Yoshimi Yoshiaki, Suzanne O'Brien (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Comfort Women as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The colorful handmade costumes of beads and feathers swirl frenetically, as the Mardi Gras Indians dance through the streets of New Orleans in remembrance of a widely disputed cultural heritage. Iroquois Indians visit London in the early part of the eighteenth century and give birth to the "feathered people" in the British popular imagination. What do these seemingly disparate strands of culture share over three hundred years and several thousand miles of ocean? Artfully interweaving theatrical, musical, and ritual performance from the eighteenth century to the present in London and New Orleans, Cities of the Dead takes a look at…

Book cover of Fifty Years of Silence: The Extraordinary Memoir of a War Rape Survivor

Peipei Qiu Why did I love this book?

Born in Java of the former Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), Jan Ruff-O’Herne was the first European “comfort woman” to speak out. She was interned in Ambarawa prison camp with her mother and two sisters when Japanese troops invaded Java in 1942, and forcibly taken to the military comfort station at Semarang two years later. Jan’s depiction of her happy family life before the war and the atrocities she suffered at the prison camp and the military brothel form an unforgettable contrast. Equally unforgettable is her resilience in the face of extraordinary brutality and her courage in breaking the silence around "comfort women" at an international public hearing on Japanese war crimes in 1992. Her book offers a strong message of hope for peace and reconciliation.

By Jan Ruff-O'Herne,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Fifty Years of Silence as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The extraordinary memoir of a war rape survivor.

'How can you tell your daughters, you know? I mean, the shame, the shame was still so great. I knew I had to tell them but I couldn't tell them face to face . . . so I decided to write it down.'

Jan Ruff O'Herne's idyllic childhood in Dutch colonial Indonesia ended when the Japanese invaded Java in 1942. She was interned in Ambarawa Prison Camp along with her mother and two younger sisters. In February 1944, when Jan was just twenty-one years old, she was taken from the camp and…

Book cover of Lolas' House: Filipino Women Living with War

Peipei Qiu Why did I love this book?

“Lolas” is the Tagalog word for “grannies,” referring to the aged women who survived Japanese military sex slavery in WWII. Lolas’ House skillfully weaves the heartrending first-person accounts of sixteen Filipina “comfort women,” snatched away from their homes and repeatedly violated by Japanese soldiers, with the riveting narratives of M. Evelina Galang, an American writer and professor of Filipina descent, who traveled with the Lolas to the sites of their abduction, protested with them at the gates of the Japanese Embassy in Manila, and became their trusted friends in documenting their stories. Galang says she “cannot rest until the stories are told.” I feel the same way. This book gives a powerful voice to the Filipina “comfort women.” 

By M. Evelina Galang,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Lolas' House as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

During World War II more than one thousand Filipinas were kidnapped by the Imperial Japanese Army. Lolas' House tells the stories of sixteen surviving Filipino "comfort women."

M. Evelina Galang enters into the lives of the women at Lolas' House, a community center in metro Manila. She accompanies them to the sites of their abduction and protests with them at the gates of the Japanese embassy. Each woman gives her testimony, and even though the women relive their horror at each telling, they offer their stories so that no woman anywhere should suffer wartime rape and torture.

Lolas' House is…

Book cover of One Left

Peipei Qiu Why did I love this book?

The novel One Left begins when the elderly protagonist hears a TV report on the last surviving Korean “comfort woman.” She is in fact also a comfort station survivor, one who has remained silent and hence unknown to the public. At the age of thirteen, she was kidnapped into a Japanese military comfort station in northeast China. The protagonist's thoughts flash back and forth between her present-day life and the wartime horrors, the details of which are drawn from  real survivors’ testimonies. “Fifteen men a day was normal,” she recalls, “but on Sunday fifty men or more might come and go from a girl.” “If a girl got pregnant, her uterus was removed fetus and all as a preventive measure.” It is a difficult read, but necessary, moving, and profound. 

By Kim Soom, Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton (translator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked One Left as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

During the Pacific War, more than 200,000 Korean girls were forced into sexual servitude for Japanese soldiers. They lived in horrific conditions in "comfort stations" across Japanese-occupied territories. Barely 10 percent survived to return to Korea, where they lived as social outcasts. Since then, self-declared comfort women have come forward only to have their testimonies and calls for compensation largely denied by the Japanese government.

Kim Soom tells the story of a woman who was kidnapped at the age of thirteen while gathering snails for her starving family. The horrors of her life as a sex slave follow her back…

Book cover of Grass

Peipei Qiu Why did I love this book?

A prize-winning work of graphic nonfiction, Grass tells the life story of Lee Ok-Sun, a Korean girl kidnapped into the military comfort station in Japanese-occupied Manchuria. The book is based on the author’s interviews with Lee, and begins with her impoverished childhood. It narrates her torture at the hands of the Japanese army and the hardships she faced after the war ended. The artwork is done with bold ink strokes, contrasting with the measured tone of the story. Together they produce a deeply moving narrative of the ordeals suffered by Korean women and girls under the Japanese military sex slavery and the colonial rule. This book etched itself into my mind; the story is terribly sad but beautifully told. 

By Keum Suk Gendry-Kim, Janet Hong (translator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Grass as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Grass is a powerful anti-war graphic novel, offering up firsthand the life story of a Korean girl named Okseon Lee who was forced into sexual slavery for the Japanese Imperial Army during the second World War a disputed chapter in 20th century Asian history. Beginning in Lee s childhood, Grass shows the leadup to World War II from a child s vulnerable perspective, detailing how one person experienced the Japanese occupation and the widespread suffering it entailed for ordinary Korean folk. Keum Suk Gendry-Kim emphasizes Lee s strength in overcoming the many forms of adversity she experienced. Grass is painted…

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Book cover of Benghazi! A New History of the Fiasco that Pushed America and its World to the Brink

Ethan Chorin Author Of Benghazi! A New History of the Fiasco that Pushed America and its World to the Brink

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Why am I passionate about this?

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What is my book about?

Benghazi: A New History is a look back at the enigmatic 2012 attack on the US mission in Benghazi, Libya, its long-tail causes, and devastating (and largely unexamined) consequences for US domestic politics and foreign policy. It contains information not found elsewhere, and is backed up by 40 pages of citations and interviews with more than 250 key protagonists, experts, and witnesses.

So far, the book is the main -- and only -- antidote to a slew of early partisan “Benghazi” polemics, and the first to put the attack in its longer term historical, political, and social context. If you want to understand some of the events that have shaped present-day America, from political polarization and the election of Donald Trump, to January 6, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Russian expansionism, and the current Israel-Hamas war, I argue, you need to understand some of the twists and turns of America's most infamous "non-scandal, scandal.”

I was in Benghazi well before, during, and after the attack as a US diplomat and co-director of a medical NGO. I have written three books, and have been a contributor to The NYT, Foreign Affairs, Forbes, Salon, The Financial Times, Newsweek, and others.

By Ethan Chorin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Benghazi! A New History of the Fiasco that Pushed America and its World to the Brink as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On September 11, 2012, Al Qaeda proxies attacked and set fire to the US mission in Benghazi, Libya, killing a US Ambassador and three other Americans.  The attack launched one of the longest and most consequential 'scandals' in US history, only to disappear from public view once its political value was spent. 

Written in a highly engaging narrative style by one of a few Western experts on Libya, and decidely non-partisan, Benghazi!: A New History is the first to provide the full context for an event that divided, incited, and baffled most of America for more than three years, while silently reshaping…

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