cover image Sad Peninsula

Sad Peninsula

Mark Sampson. Dundurn (IPS, U.S. dist., UTP, Canadian dist.), $22.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-1-4597-0925-6

"This will hurt immensely," a brutal doctor tells Korean teenager Meiko in his office at a so-called comfort station in northeastern China circa 1943. In order to cure the girl of a sexually transmitted disease from the Japanese soldiers that rape and torture her each and every day, the doctor's about to inject Meiko with an arsenic compound that causes painful side-effects. The harrowing and deeply moving sections of Sampson's (Off Book) sophomore novel describe the traumatized life of Meiko, born Eun-young, as she survives atrocities and spends later decades "barren as a rock" as well as mutely suffering, poor and ashamed, on the margins of conservative, male-dominated Korean society. Alternating but equally engaging chapters describe Michael, a disgraced journalist from Halifax fleeing personal failures and squandered opportunities while "slinging English like hamburgers" at ABC English Planet, a rigid ESL school in neon-lit Seoul. Quiet and thoughtful, he wrestles his own demons as he observes the questionable antics of his fellow male teachers, who regard the young women of Seoul in the early 2000s as gifts to open and discard. Michael's awkward romance with Jin, a relative of Eun-young, bridges the two eras and gives the author ample opportunity to illustrate the enduring consequences of history. (Oct.)