From the publisher’s website:
In the wake of the wartime experience of sexual slavery for the Japanese military during the Asia-Pacific War (1930-45), Korean survivors lived under great pressure not to speak about what had happened to them. These sexual slaves were known as “comfort women,” and this book brings us into the lives of three of them: Pak Duri, Mun Pilgi, and Bae Chunhui. Over the course of seven years, author Joshua Pilzer worked with these now-elderly women, living alongside of them, smoking with them, eating with them, singing and playing with them, documenting and trying to understand their worlds of song.
Hearts of Pine focuses on the selves and social lives that these three women cultivated through song. During four decades of post-war public secrecy about the comfort women system, song served for these women as both a private and a public means of coping with their trauma — each used song in a different way to reckon with their experiences and to forge a new sense of self. In the 1990s a nationalist movement arose in South Korea to seek redress from the Japanese government and to tend to the previously-shunned comfort women survivors in their old age. Suddenly these women, and many others like them, found themselves pulled from the margins of society and thrust into the very center of the public cultural spotlight. Appearing on television and radio as well as at political events and protest rallies, the “comfort women grandmothers” collectively functioned as an emblem of the horrors Japan inflicted on long “enslaved” Korea — a Korea that had now overcome Japanese domination. But while the women were to stand forward as symbols of Korea’s triumph over metaphorical enslavement, they were still not enabled to speak of the details of their own actual enslavement, as these horrors remained too disturbing for the public to tolerate — the public did not want to hear about what the comfort women had suffered, only that they had, like Korea herself, survived. Yet in the face of the selective interests and forces of the public cultural imagination, and directly into the media spotlights of South Korean public culture itself, all three of these women continued to use song as a means of expressing publicly that which they were not supposed to talk about.
Through the intimate and tenderly crafted portraits of three off-beat old women in a South Korean old age home (who made routine appearances on national television and radio), Hearts of Pine addresses basic questions about the power of music vis-à-vis other forms of social expression, illuminates the history of Korean music in the twentieth century, and tells a new history of the “comfort women” system and postwar South Korean public culture.