Beyond “Sex and the Family”: Revisionist Historiography in Nora Okja Keller’s Comfort Woman


Until the early nineties and due to various reasons, the experiences of (Korean) comfort women were edited out of Korean and Japanese historical narratives, highlighting how power dynamics and different agendas lead to the sanitization and censoring of historical records. In her novel Comfort Woman (1997), Nora Okja Keller positions Akiko, a survivor of Japanese sexual slavery, and her daughter Beccah as revisionist historiographers who capture these untold and forgotten histories for future generations. Forced to remain silent, Akiko produces innovative counter-narratives which she manages to document for her daughter and future generations by leaving a box full of clippings of both an official and a personal nature. By combining the two, Akiko introduces a more comprehensive view of history which includes private as well as national sacrifices, particularly those of women. Beccah, too, with her work as an obituarist performs a new brand of revisionist historiography. Obituaries serve as a sort of personal history, and faced with her mother’s death, Beccah realizes that a formulaic “official” obituary is noncomprehensive. Throughout the narrative, particularly by posing as revisionist historiographers, the women in Keller’s novel challenge traditional views to history and record the forgotten and neglected experiences of women.

Author Information
Dina ElDakhakhny, Yonsei University, South Korea

Paper Information
Conference: ACAH2017
Stream: Humanities - Literature/Literary Studies*

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Posted by James Alexander Gordon