How We Disappeared
A beautiful, stunningly ambitious novel set in Singapore about a woman who survived the Japanese occupation and a man who thought he had lost everything. For fans of Min Jin Lee's Pachinko and Georgia Hunter’s We Were the Lucky Ones.Singapore, 1942. As Japanese troops sweep down Malaysia and into Singapore, a village is ransacked, leaving only two survivors and one tiny child.In a neighbouring village, seventeen-year-old Wang Di is bundled into the back of a troop carrier and shipped off to a Japanese military brothel where she is forced into sexual slavery. After sixty years of silence, what she saw and experienced there still haunts her present.In the year 2000, twelve-year-old Kevin is determined to find out the truth – wherever it might lead – after his grandmother makes a surprising confession on her deathbed, one she never meant Kevin to hear, setting in motion a chain of events he could never have foreseen.Weaving together two timelines and two very big secrets, this stunning debut opens a window on a little-known period of history, revealing the strength and bravery shown by numerous women in the face of terrible cruelty. A profoundly moving novel, it is based partly on the author's great-grandfather’s experiences.

How We Disappeared Details

TitleHow We Disappeared
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseMay 2nd, 2019
PublisherOneworld Publications
Rating
GenreHistorical, Historical Fiction, Fiction, War, World War II

How We Disappeared Review

  • Angela M
    January 1, 1970
    They were called “comfort women”, a soft description meant to make what was done by the Japanese soldiers to these young girls and women from Korea and this case Singapore, to make it sound less threatening, less horrific. But what they endured was horrific - the rapes and sexual abuse, slavery, locked in rooms, given little food. This is another story that’s difficult to read, but an important one as a theme of the novel reflects - the stories must be told. I didn’t really know anything about w They were called “comfort women”, a soft description meant to make what was done by the Japanese soldiers to these young girls and women from Korea and this case Singapore, to make it sound less threatening, less horrific. But what they endured was horrific - the rapes and sexual abuse, slavery, locked in rooms, given little food. This is another story that’s difficult to read, but an important one as a theme of the novel reflects - the stories must be told. I didn’t really know anything about what happened in Singapore during WWII so I found here yet another piece of that historical time. It’s not just about the awful things that happened to young girls and women when they were taken away from their homes and families, but also about what happened to the people of Singapore as they were bombed and lost their homes, their families or their lives. It’s about keeping the story of the past a secret from every one, including your loved ones because of your shame for doing things that were not your choice, for fear of being disowned. It about the importance of telling those stories.The dual time line of Wand Di’s narrative is a story of her past, one that she was not been able to tell even her husband of many years before he dies and her present day struggling to deal with not having told him and wanting to know the secrets of his past as well. A second narrative in the present day is that of twelve year old Kevin who is visually impaired, bullied and trying to follow through with a promise to his grandmother on her deathbed. This was perhaps a little slow at times, but overall it was compelling as I waited to see how Kevin and Wand Di’s paths would cross. Heartbreaking in many ways, but a satisfying ending of to important story.I received an advanced copy of this book from HARLEQUIN/Hanover Square Press through NetGalley.
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  • Elyse Walters
    January 1, 1970
    The book cover is gorgeous..... Yet the history was brutal. The Japanese occupation in Singapore in WWII took place from 1942 to 1945. The history often is forgotten - and some prefer it that way. Especially the Japanese government. The Japanese Military was horrendous and shameless. Most Americans are educated about Pearl Harbor - yet are less familiar with the horrors of what the Japanese military did - and to the extent that women suffered. What really got to me was the ‘shame’ the women and The book cover is gorgeous..... Yet the history was brutal. The Japanese occupation in Singapore in WWII took place from 1942 to 1945. The history often is forgotten - and some prefer it that way. Especially the Japanese government. The Japanese Military was horrendous and shameless. Most Americans are educated about Pearl Harbor - yet are less familiar with the horrors of what the Japanese military did - and to the extent that women suffered. What really got to me was the ‘shame’ the women and ‘girls’ felt about themselves....for being forced into sexual slavery. It kills me - as in so sad - when victims internalize their trauma by blaming themselves with inner critical abusive thoughts.... and other self inflicting punishment. I never fully understand why humans do that.... but if I’m honest - I’ve been guilty as well. The years of torture begins to weigh too heavily....often leading to feelings of unworthiness. That’s were the shame comes in: HEARTBREAKING!!! The term ‘comfort women’ has always bothered me. This is not my first time hearing this label. I find it degrading to continue using the term ‘comfort women’, at all!!!! Let the label *disappear*. Wang Di was 16 years old when she was abducted from her home by the Japanese military.The devastation of things she endured- were unspeakable. The storytelling includes not only the teenage years for Wang Di.... but as an elderly woman - after years of marriage grieving her dying husband. The other part of the story focuses on a young boy name Kevin. He learns secrets that his grandmother had been keeping that were also ‘unspeakable’. I’ve read other books about this history - and any book that opens awareness to the importance of these atrocities- is a worthy read. The crafting of the writing is not without flaws - but the heart of this story itself flawless. Thank you Harlequin Trade Publishing, Netgalley, and Jing-Jing.
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  • Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader
    January 1, 1970
    How We Disappeared has two timelines. The first is set during World War II, and the location is Singapore. Japanese troops have been marching through Malaysia. One village is almost completely wiped out; only three survive the attack. In a nearby village, Wang Di is captured and sent to a Japanese military brothel where she is a “comfort woman.” The second timeline is in the year 2000. Young Kevin’s grandmother is sick, and she confesses something to him. It causes him to seek the truth, whateve How We Disappeared has two timelines. The first is set during World War II, and the location is Singapore. Japanese troops have been marching through Malaysia. One village is almost completely wiped out; only three survive the attack. In a nearby village, Wang Di is captured and sent to a Japanese military brothel where she is a “comfort woman.” The second timeline is in the year 2000. Young Kevin’s grandmother is sick, and she confesses something to him. It causes him to seek the truth, whatever that might be. The two timelines have two secrets…Jing-Jing Lee was inspired by her family’s experiences to write this story. How We Disappeared is a tribute to strong women displaying resilience of spirit even in the most dire of times. It’s about family and seeking the truth. While this was occasionally difficult to read due to the subject matter, the inspiration I drew from these characters and their courage kept it from being overwhelmingly dark. The writing is beautiful, and the story so poignant, I was completely invested and compelled to keep reading. I also absorbed the Singaporean culture from the time, as it was fascinating. Overall, this is another perspective on the atrocities of World War II, and a story that was important to share so that we never, ever forget. I received a complimentary copy. All opinions are my own. My reviews can also be found on my blog: www.jennifertarheelreader.com
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  • Meike
    January 1, 1970
    This sprawling epic talks about the Japanese occupation of Singapore during WW II and its repercussions which affect families until this day. I applaud Jing-Jing Lee for illustrating that history is never really over and how important it is to be able to tell one's own story in order to see oneself and to feel seen: To share and discuss what has happened in the past can free individual people, families and whole societies. Jing-Jing Lee has woven a net of stories about a family that experiences This sprawling epic talks about the Japanese occupation of Singapore during WW II and its repercussions which affect families until this day. I applaud Jing-Jing Lee for illustrating that history is never really over and how important it is to be able to tell one's own story in order to see oneself and to feel seen: To share and discuss what has happened in the past can free individual people, families and whole societies. Jing-Jing Lee has woven a net of stories about a family that experiences hardship, loss and trauma due to the occupation of Singapore 1942-45. One main focus lies on Wang Di who is abducted from her parents and forced to work as a prostitute serving Japanese soldiers; another main thread is set in the 21st century and introduces us to Kevin who tries to uncover the secrets of his grandmother - the story is propelled forward by the question how the stories of Wang Di and Kevin might be connected, and while trying to figure that out, we are jumping between timelines and meeting their parents and other family members, thus hearing about various destinies marked by historical events while they where happening and long afterwards.While many of the grown-ups struggle to suppress their own memories, try to silence the victims or can't find a way to face what has happened to them due to severe trauma, 12-year-old Kevin takes his late grandmother's tape recorder that she used to record music and employs it as a device to record stories in order to secure that long-hidden truths are finally preserved for everybody to hear. Like the oral history in the national archives, Kevin creates a soundscape of stories about his own family, thus also finding out who he is and where he comes from. So all in all, there is a lot to enjoy in this novel, and to my knowledge, its topic is not widely discussed in literature that is available in English (or German). Jing-Jing Lee has a lot of empathy for her characters, she does not indulge in flashy descriptions of violence or in kitsch, and she taught me quite a bit about Singapore. Still, I found the novel way too long: It is full passages that contain unnecessary descriptions as well as retardations that do not heighten suspense, but are slightly enervating. The language was fine and very readable, but not unique. Unfortunately, the writing is lacking a poetic dimension that might transport the book from being an interesting historic novel into a lyrical meditation about history and storytelling - that the power of language is one of the main topics the author adresses makes the reader wish she would have opted for a more daring poetic concept.All in all, this is still a solid debut novel that I would recommend: It's informative, well-written and full of heart.
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  • Roman Clodia
    January 1, 1970
    "Who's going to listen?" I repeated. [...] "Don't tell anyone. Not me or your father or any of the neighbours. Especially not your future husband." An important book that is hard reading at times as we learn the story of one woman's life as a 'comfort woman' to the Japanese Army in Singapore during WW2. I have to say that I found this uneven in places: I loved the heart of the book, Wang Di's cathartic narrative as she finally allows herself to tell the story of her captivity and experiences. B "Who's going to listen?" I repeated. [...] "Don't tell anyone. Not me or your father or any of the neighbours. Especially not your future husband." An important book that is hard reading at times as we learn the story of one woman's life as a 'comfort woman' to the Japanese Army in Singapore during WW2. I have to say that I found this uneven in places: I loved the heart of the book, Wang Di's cathartic narrative as she finally allows herself to tell the story of her captivity and experiences. But I found it all wrapped up in far less entrancing tales: Wang Di as an old woman 'now', and Kevin who is searching for his antecedents. (view spoiler)[Not just do these stories take away from the prime wartime narrative, but I tend to dislike these kinds of full-circle 'happy' endings, reuniting the lost. (hide spoiler)]Still, what I consider the main story is wonderfully realised in all its horror and terror. What is so striking is not just what these women went through during the war, but the shame they experienced as if they had done something wrong rather than having wrong done to them. The cultural burden of silence imposed on them by their families who wanted to just look away is what tore me up the most. So I might not have necessarily agreed with the structural and narrative decisions that the author made but would recommend this book widely: it's painful reading but surely urgent and necessary - especially as women are still being trafficked into sexual slavery, and placed in 'rape camps' in wars around the world.Many thanks to Oneworld for an ARC via NetGalley.
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  • Tammy
    January 1, 1970
    This beautiful heart-breaking debut is multi-narrated around two timelines and centers around Japan’s atrocities during their occupation of Singapore during WWll, and modern day when a 12yr old learns of his grandmother’s hidden secret. Artfully crafted and utterly gripping.. this novel evokes the strong resilience women needed to survive during those horrific times. Has difficult subjects and is not for the faint at heart. 4 ☆
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  • Laurie • The Baking Bookworm
    January 1, 1970
    Readers will immediately notice the beautiful cover of this Historical Fiction novel that looks at WWII from a different vantage point - the Japanese occupation of Singapore between 1942 and 1945. The story has dual time lines and is told with two perspectives. Wang Di is a teenage girl from a small town who is abducted during the war and sold into sexual slavery to become a 'comfort woman' to the Japanese army. The second perspective is from Kevin, a 12-year-old boy who tries to piece together Readers will immediately notice the beautiful cover of this Historical Fiction novel that looks at WWII from a different vantage point - the Japanese occupation of Singapore between 1942 and 1945. The story has dual time lines and is told with two perspectives. Wang Di is a teenage girl from a small town who is abducted during the war and sold into sexual slavery to become a 'comfort woman' to the Japanese army. The second perspective is from Kevin, a 12-year-old boy who tries to piece together his grandmother's murky confession sixty years after the war. These are compelling premises, but I found Wang Di's story, while hard to read at times, much more interesting. I will caution readers that her tragic story isn't for the faint of heart as the author vividly describes the barbaric abuse and feelings of helplessness that Wang Di and her friends suffer at the hands of the Japanese who controlled Singapore. While I appreciated learning about a lesser known, but no less tragic, aspect of WWII, unfortunately, I struggled to become invested the stories, particularly Kevin's. The connections between the two POVs and two time frames were often awkward which influenced the flow of the story. I also felt somewhat dissatisfied that readers are left with so many unanswered questions. Overall, while I had some issues with this book, it is an evocative read about survival, female endurance and the long road to healing. Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to the publisher and TLC Book Tours for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
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  • Thebooktrail
    January 1, 1970
    Visit the locations in the novelSingapore, 1942. As Japanese troops sweep down Malaysia and into Singapore, a village is ransacked, leaving only two survivors and one tiny child.An emotional and heartbreaking read set during the Japanese occupation. It’s the story of a woman who survived the most horrific circumstances yet survived. Woven around this story is the tale of her husband and the horrors he also went through at the hands of the Japanese.A heartbreaking and powerful read. Did I mentio Visit the locations in the novelSingapore, 1942. As Japanese troops sweep down Malaysia and into Singapore, a village is ransacked, leaving only two survivors and one tiny child.An emotional and heartbreaking read set during the Japanese occupation. It’s the story of a woman who survived the most horrific circumstances yet survived. Woven around this story is the tale of her husband and the horrors he also went through at the hands of the Japanese.A heartbreaking and powerful read. Did I mention this was heartbreaking? It shattered my heart and it’s stayed with me ever since. There were times I didn’t want to read any more but I did, as to stop would have felt like abandoning the characters to their fate alone. This book got to me in many ways, I’m not going to lie.The books takes you back to the horrors inflicted on the women of Singapore during WW2. The Japanese invaded and they destroyed a country but they terrorised and violated many of the women. The descriptions of this were graphic and upsetting yet it’s experiences that did happen and Wang Di’s incarceration and brutal treatment is also that of so many others. Remember this and it’s all the more heart-wrenching. The women who were taken were called ‘comfort women’ and this name made the situation even worse somehow. Comfort? That word felt like nails on a blackboard. The notion of comfort which conjures up so many nice things sullied by the Japanese in this way. Those poor, poor women.Then there’s the story of her husband. They have both suffered in different ways but find it hard to talk about it. He’s affectionately known as ‘Old One’, and Wang Di needs to know what he experienced during the war. She’s never admitted to him what happened to her – the shame is too great. And that’s what got me. despite everything this poor woman has endured, she’s the one to feel shame.These two stories are recorded and written down by Kevin, who wants to discover the long lost story of his late grandmother. It’s this and the intertwining of the two histories that builds the picture of the novel as a whole.Important to learn about, important to read, but powerfully raw and emotionally heartbreaking.
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  • Cora Tea Party Princess
    January 1, 1970
    Review to come, but this book broke my heart over and over.
  • eyes.2c
    January 1, 1970
    Comfort women, one story!I have read quite a few novels and attended at least one heart wrenching play over the past few years about Comfort Women. Basically women taken and forced to be sex slaves in brothels set up by the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II to service their occupation troops. These women were treated as little more than animals. Their circumstances, their treatment and their violation was horrific. Disease and brutality with no quarter given marched hand in hand. The pr Comfort women, one story!I have read quite a few novels and attended at least one heart wrenching play over the past few years about Comfort Women. Basically women taken and forced to be sex slaves in brothels set up by the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II to service their occupation troops. These women were treated as little more than animals. Their circumstances, their treatment and their violation was horrific. Disease and brutality with no quarter given marched hand in hand. The problem of reintegration was real for most of these women. The notion of someone from the younger generation, in this instance Kevin, discovering or questioning the life of an elder (parent, grandparent) is a frequently used trope. JIng-Jing Lee has used this method to advantage. Kevin becomes the agent for healing.The story of Wang Di, taken from her village at gun point on the Singapore Peninsula by Japanese invaders and interred as a sex slave is atrocious. It was August 1942. Wang Di was seventeen, some were only girls of twelve.The emotional and physical trauma Wang Di experienced played as a self destroying loop throughout her life. She was convinced that what she had become during the war was because she was, "as unworthy as [her] parents had always suggested. That [she] would have been better born as a boy."What she really was, was a war crimes survivor, who had come out the other side of an horrific and inhumane experience. She was not the criminal! I must say that I felt somewhat disconnected in the moving between the characters' perspectives. For me it was not a smooth interweaving.Nevertheless for those interested, this is a very worthwhile read.There is still conflict around Japanese apologies to Comfort Women, and this is now nearly 75 years after the end of the war. Many of the women survivors have died, in shame and poverty without family, without support, without restitution. There have been some apologies, but for many of the survivors that was not enough. This declining battle (declining due to the current age of the women) is noted in the following press release from the South China Morning Post, August 17, 2017 "Huang Youliang, a former "comfort woman", died at the age of 90 on August 12. [2017] A total of 24 Chinese comfort women, including Huang, have attempted to sue the Japanese government in four cases since 1995, all have failed." Work's like Jing-Jing Lee's are important to keep the issue alive.I can't leave without mentioning the book's cover. It calls out to you! The girl almost disappears into the foliage, as though disappearing into a dream state, disappeared perhaps from a family's memory. And it begs the point, how does anyone survive what Wang Di was subjected to? As an aesthetic response to the story it's outstanding. As a starting point for reflective discussion it's more than interesting. The sublime blue-green colors bring to mind The Green Lady, by Vladimir Tretchikoff, overlaid with motifs reminiscent of Henri Rousseau. Nicely done!A Hanover Square Press ARC via NetGalley
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  • Anya
    January 1, 1970
    This book is with rights compared to Min Jin Lee's "Pachinko".It's beautiful and heart-breaking at the same time. Our main characters go through so incredibly much abuse and sorrow and never really open up to each other what happened during the war and Japanese occupation.I can recommend this to lovers of Min Jin Lee's novels or if you enjoyed the Night Tiger or the Geisha.
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  • Jenna Bookish
    January 1, 1970
    My thanks to Hanover Square Press and NetGalley for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and are not influenced by the publisher. How We Disappeared is a beautiful, heartbreaking historical fiction novel with an element of mystery. There are several different story lines woven together with different point-of-view characters, but the strongest part of the novel while, also perhaps being the most difficult to read, was Wang Di's experience. Wang My thanks to Hanover Square Press and NetGalley for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and are not influenced by the publisher. How We Disappeared is a beautiful, heartbreaking historical fiction novel with an element of mystery. There are several different story lines woven together with different point-of-view characters, but the strongest part of the novel while, also perhaps being the most difficult to read, was Wang Di's experience. Wang Di is taken from her family during WWII and forced into sexual slavery as an innocuously named "comfort woman."Jing-Jing Lee's writing is beautiful and the character of Wang Di brings a personality to a very real tragedy that could otherwise feel quite distant and abstract in today's day and age. Despite the plethora of WWII historical fiction, there seem to be comparatively few novels which acknowledge the horrific abuse which "comfort women" suffered, much less the lack of understanding these women would have received from their fellow countrymen after the war. Despite the reality that this was a situation of sexual slavery, Wang Di knows that she cannot expect sympathy, and people will treat her as if she consented and, in doing so, betrayed her country to the Japanese invaders. Lee has portrayed that heartbreak and internalization of shame flawlessly. While Wang Di's story was much more dramatic, 12-year-old Kevin definitely won me over as well. His grandmother's deathbed confession turns his understanding of his family upside-down, and he is determined to solve the mystery without the aid of his father. While his story isn't exactly lighthearted, it definitely provides a counter balance to Wang Di's much darker storyline and feels like an adventure. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed How We Disappeared, and definitely recommend it to fans of historical fiction. I've seen it recommended to fans of Pachinko several times, and while I understand the comparison, I do think How We Disappeared has much better pacing (and it's also about 150 pages shorter.) Jing-Jing Lee has brought an under-represented bit of history to life in this novel. You can read all of my reviews on my blog, Jenna Bookish!Facebook | Instagram | Tumblr
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  • Becky
    January 1, 1970
    The real deal.This book was unsurprisingly difficult to read, but worth it. My heart broke so much for Wang Di, and the real women on whom her character is based. The trauma she endures appears to me to be depicted faithfully in the novel, neither sanitized nor sensationalized, and the lasting impact of this time in her life courses through every page. Her relationship with her late husband, affectionately called The Old One, was a precious thing, and I loved and ached as she reminisced over the The real deal.This book was unsurprisingly difficult to read, but worth it. My heart broke so much for Wang Di, and the real women on whom her character is based. The trauma she endures appears to me to be depicted faithfully in the novel, neither sanitized nor sensationalized, and the lasting impact of this time in her life courses through every page. Her relationship with her late husband, affectionately called The Old One, was a precious thing, and I loved and ached as she reminisced over their bond. Kevin is an equally compelling character; a victim of bullying, he has taken to recording his experiences to remember his life if he goes blind. His love for his family and curiosity propel him to investigate the secrets of his grandmother’s confession, and set the course of this novel in motion. The interlocked stories of Kevin and Wang Di past and present captivated me, while giving me a deeper understanding of a previously overlooked piece of history. I highly recommend you pick up this novel, and be ready to be moved.
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  • Lorilin
    January 1, 1970
    Oh, good grief, prepare yourself for this one…In 1942, Japanese soldiers ransack villages in Singapore, killing men, and kidnapping women and young girls so they can become sexual slaves. Wang Di is taken from her family when she’s only sixteen years old and, for the next three years, is forced to have sex with 40+ soldiers a day. Eventually she makes it out—but, of course, she can never forget.Years later, a twelve-year old boy named Kevin is trying to figure out what happened to his grandmothe Oh, good grief, prepare yourself for this one…In 1942, Japanese soldiers ransack villages in Singapore, killing men, and kidnapping women and young girls so they can become sexual slaves. Wang Di is taken from her family when she’s only sixteen years old and, for the next three years, is forced to have sex with 40+ soldiers a day. Eventually she makes it out—but, of course, she can never forget.Years later, a twelve-year old boy named Kevin is trying to figure out what happened to his grandmother. She confesses something on her deathbed, and now Kevin can’t rest until he knows the truth. Eventually, his story will connect with Wang Di’s, and the two will have to find healing in each other.I just can’t. I know that this stuff happens, and I know we can’t turn away. In fact, I’m pretty sure the author based this book off of real-life events her family members experienced. But it’s awful. Too awful. When I was reading the passages about young Wang Di being raped over and over and over again, day after day after day, all I could think about was my daughter and all the other young girls I know. It’s horrific and overwhelming.The story is well told, and it moves along quickly. And if you are a fan of historical fiction, you will probably enjoy it. But you really have to mentally prepare yourself for something like this, because this is heavy, heavy stuff. How We Disappeared is a well-written book, but, no, I probably wouldn’t recommend it.Thank you to Amazon Vine and Oneworld Publications for the ARC.
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  • Fiona Mitchell
    January 1, 1970
    A shattering, tender and absorbing novel that centres around the unfathomable cruelty that women in Singapore endured when they were snatched by the Japanese Army and forced into sexual slavery during World War Two. It was harrowing to read of Wang Di’s incarceration as a ‘comfort woman’ - far too benign a description for the barbarism that she and thousands of women endured across the occupied territories - yet what rings out from the book is human resilience and our capacity to love no matter A shattering, tender and absorbing novel that centres around the unfathomable cruelty that women in Singapore endured when they were snatched by the Japanese Army and forced into sexual slavery during World War Two. It was harrowing to read of Wang Di’s incarceration as a ‘comfort woman’ - far too benign a description for the barbarism that she and thousands of women endured across the occupied territories - yet what rings out from the book is human resilience and our capacity to love no matter how damaged we might be.Not only do we hear from young Wang Di, age just 16 when she is ripped away from her family and locked into the tiny room of her prison, but elderly Wang Di has her own chapters too. Grieving her husband, affectionately known as the 'Old One', it transpires that neither of them, though traumatised by their experiences during the occupation, have ever shared with one another what really happened to them both. For Wang Di, this is because of the shame that attached to women who had been forced into sexual slavery; their treatment included being shunned and called traitors. Wang Di sets out to discover what the Old One experienced during the war. The third voice in the book belongs to the enchanting teenager Kevin. With his bottle-top glasses and his tape recorder, he starts to unearth a secret that his late grandmother had been keeping for decades. As Wang Di and Kevin set out on their individual quests to uncover the truth, the tension builds while we wait to find out whether their worlds will collide.The final chapters are suffused with kindness, the power of talking, love. Indeed they are so moving that I read them through a blur of tears.Meticulously researched, exquisitely written, with characters that will live and breathe in your hearts long after you finish the last page, How We Disappeared is a worthy testament to the women who were forced to become ‘comfort women.’ Not only does Jing-Jing Lee capture the horror of it all, but also the hope. I’m reeling from its power - what an absolute triumph.
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  • MRIDULA
    January 1, 1970
    Set in Singapore during Japan's invasion of Malaysia, 'How We Disappeared' is the story of a woman who lost her identity during the war and a man who lost most of his family. Their strange marriage was one where talks on war were forbidden. But it wasn't exactly their fault, it was all in the memories.16-year-old Wand Di had a restricted childhood. She was forced to stay home and help her mother with the chores. But her worst nightmare started when she is forced into sexual slavery in a brother. Set in Singapore during Japan's invasion of Malaysia, 'How We Disappeared' is the story of a woman who lost her identity during the war and a man who lost most of his family. Their strange marriage was one where talks on war were forbidden. But it wasn't exactly their fault, it was all in the memories.16-year-old Wand Di had a restricted childhood. She was forced to stay home and help her mother with the chores. But her worst nightmare started when she is forced into sexual slavery in a brother. These memories have haunted her for years, scarring her for life. When she marries a man who has lost his family to war, she is unable to offer any comfort and that is a constant source of regret.In a parallel world, Kevin (a visually impaired child) finds out a secret about his family from his dying grandmother and is determined to find the truth behind it.As Wand Di sets herself on a path to find out everything about her husband's lost family (after his death), Kevin encounters a set of events that both astonishes him and breaks him anew.The narrative varies between Wang Di's present and past, as well as Kevin's experience. The story explores pain in a raw manner, and it is extremely easy to connect with these characters. The plot might be slow at times, but the ending was satisfying and fulfilling.
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  • Stacie C
    January 1, 1970
    This is a story about family. It’s a story about war. It’s a story about surviving. A story about living after loss. It’s a story of healing and a story about the passing of time. It’s a story of teenage girl taken from her family during World War II and forced to live for years in a brothel as a comfort woman. It’s the story of a women married to a man for decades, who both suffering from the pains of war, never really knew each other or shared their past. It’s the story of a boy whose grandmot This is a story about family. It’s a story about war. It’s a story about surviving. A story about living after loss. It’s a story of healing and a story about the passing of time. It’s a story of teenage girl taken from her family during World War II and forced to live for years in a brothel as a comfort woman. It’s the story of a women married to a man for decades, who both suffering from the pains of war, never really knew each other or shared their past. It’s the story of a boy whose grandmother left him with a truth that he doesn’t know how to share. This novel takes place in Singapore during both World War II and the early 21st century. It focuses heavily on the atrocities committed by the Japanese during the war and the affect that had on the Chinese communities during and after the war for generations to come. Lee did a beautiful job weaving these stories together and creating these characters. She created such interesting family dynamics that really defined the way generations reacted with each other. The way she described the cultural aspect shaped not only the characters but the world building as well. Times of war felt desolate and scarce. The tone of her writing would reflect the world building in a way that you could feel the emotional weight of each moment and each action. I thought I had certain elements and plot points figured out, only for more parts of the truth to be unveiled and for things to shift. The blending of the past and the present lent itself beautifully to this novel. It leaves you exploring so many questions about how we cope with love and loss and traumatic experiences. Lee did such a great job exploring all of those themes. Definitely a novel I could recommend for not only her writing but her ability flesh out characters and moments to have the most emotional impact.
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  • Runwright
    January 1, 1970
    Full review here https://wp.me/p4cJzL-3ZM
  • Jennifer (JC-S)
    January 1, 1970
    ‘He knew what the unsaid did to people. Ate away at them from the inside.’Singapore, 1942. The Japanese troops sweep all before them as they move through Malaysia and into Singapore. In one village, only two people and a tiny child survive. In a nearby village, seventeen-year-old Wang Di is taken from her village to a Japanese military brothel, where she is forced into sexual slavery. Wang Di becomes one of the ‘comfort women’. Later, Wang Di marries. Her husband, affectionately known as ‘The Ol ‘He knew what the unsaid did to people. Ate away at them from the inside.’Singapore, 1942. The Japanese troops sweep all before them as they move through Malaysia and into Singapore. In one village, only two people and a tiny child survive. In a nearby village, seventeen-year-old Wang Di is taken from her village to a Japanese military brothel, where she is forced into sexual slavery. Wang Di becomes one of the ‘comfort women’. Later, Wang Di marries. Her husband, affectionately known as ‘The Old One’ has also been traumatised by the war. He was widowed and lost his family. The two of them never speak to each other of their experiences. And then, years later after ‘The Old One’ dies, Wang Di tries to find out more about his past.‘’Tell me a story.’ It was then she knew he had been waiting to say this. Waiting for decades for the right moment. And now he couldn’t wait anymore.’Almost sixty years later, in 2000, twelve-year-old Kevin is with his grandmother as she is dying. She reveals to Kevin (unintentionally) a secret that she has kept for many years. Kevin sets out to find out more about this secret.The novel shifts between the young Wang Di and her experiences during the war, the elderly Wang Di and her search, and Kevin and his search.I found parts of this novel difficult to read: the experiences of the ‘comfort women’ and their treatment are harrowing. Ms Lee’s writing kept me reading, as did my desire to learn more about the secrets ‘The Old One’ and Wang Di had kept from each other. Each trying to protect the other from the horrors of the past. There is both horror and hope in this novel. It is a novel I will reread.‘Sometimes all you had to do to get someone to talk was to be silent.’Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Oneworld Publications for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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  • Anna Baillie-Karas
    January 1, 1970
    A beautiful, moving novel, set in Singapore. The story of Wang Di, a sex slave during WW2, and Kevin, who is is solving a mystery about his grandmother. I loved the clean writing - the images are so clear, characters finely drawn. Shows the plight of ‘comfort women’ and the long-lasting effects of WW2 traumas. It’s well-paced: there’s action and suspense, but Lee gives her characters room to breathe. They’re outsiders but resilient; they break your heart. It also raises the question of silence a A beautiful, moving novel, set in Singapore. The story of Wang Di, a sex slave during WW2, and Kevin, who is is solving a mystery about his grandmother. I loved the clean writing - the images are so clear, characters finely drawn. Shows the plight of ‘comfort women’ and the long-lasting effects of WW2 traumas. It’s well-paced: there’s action and suspense, but Lee gives her characters room to breathe. They’re outsiders but resilient; they break your heart. It also raises the question of silence after war, and whether survivors should speak about their memories. There is an aspect of shame attached to sex slavery - Nadia Murad confronts this in ‘The Last Girl’. Maria Tumarkin writes about Holocaust survivors’ plight in Axiomatic. She thinks in both cases - speaking or silence - it’s problematic. And only a fellow survivor can meaningfully take part in that conversation. Lee allows these questions to arise naturally, but does not burden the reader - it’s all about the story, the strong, engaging characters and their secrets.
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  • Ming
    January 1, 1970
    I find it difficult to write about this book. A jumble of powerful feelings rises up. The story itself is wrenching and the sections depicting the girl’s experiences as a sex slave to Japanese soldiers during WWII are particularly harrowing.However and importantly, the beauty of the writing and its intimate tone/”feel” make the reading all the more affecting and haunting. I felt as if I almost became her, especially during the most traumatic periods. I saw through her eyes. Other times, she was I find it difficult to write about this book. A jumble of powerful feelings rises up. The story itself is wrenching and the sections depicting the girl’s experiences as a sex slave to Japanese soldiers during WWII are particularly harrowing.However and importantly, the beauty of the writing and its intimate tone/”feel” make the reading all the more affecting and haunting. I felt as if I almost became her, especially during the most traumatic periods. I saw through her eyes. Other times, she was confiding her most private sorrows and regrets to me.I place this title with others that have so eloquently told the stories of Asian sex slaves, termed “comfort women” by the Japanese who abused them in WWII. The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng and Comfort Woman by Nora Okja Keller depicted the horrors these women endured. These books show the tragedy of war certainly but they also reveal the longterm human impact and the struggle to survive. I hope that reading about these women serve as a reminder and a lesson to all about the inhumanity of war, patriarchy and colonialism.I highly recommend this book and look forward to this author’s future works. Thanks to Hanover Square Press for providing this ARC via NetGalley.Here are several quotes:After that night, my father disappeared a little more. That was when I learned that it was possible to disappear and still be there, that it was possible to disappear even further than he had. To be emptier than empty. Blacker than black.She felt light. As if what had been keeping her whole was being hollowed out of her. She had a sense of the familiar, and knew at once, what this was. This was what it was like to lose hope, little by little.The ones who frightened me the most were the men who pretended to treat me as if I were human, at least at first, on the surface. The first time it happened, I found myself looking at someone my age—he couldn’t have been more than eighteen or nineteen, with a face so nondescript, so familiar, he could have been a shopkeeper in our village or the son of a neighbor. I understood little Japanese but it was his voice, soft and reasonable, a sharp contrast to the barks and cries and spat commands, that drew me out of myself and made me look at him. He was clean-shaven and his eyes were warm, laughing. When he took his cap off, thick black hair fell forward, making him look even younger. He spoke again, and I listened this time.I thanked her. If she had stayed on, I might have told her that I hadn’t seen my family in years. That I had been put away for a long time, and it was the time spent away that made me this way, made me speak as if each word was a cold stone in my mouth, and my thoughts rough-cut gems that I was reluctant to spit out. I might have told her I was afraid my family wouldn’t want me back. That too much had happened. I would have told her, but the look in her eyes, careful and searching, suggested that she’d arrived at the truth on her own…Home. I was just over the threshold when I froze and took a step backward, fighting to keep acid from rising out of my throat. I’d forgotten when it smelled like—home, a thing that used to be a bitter but steady comfort.Wondering at the carved emptiness to my stomach even though I couldn’t eat another bite. A feeling like homesickness. And I realized that it was gone: home. My idea of it. My place in it.For the rest of the time I lived with my family, my mother and I spoke no more about Yang. All of them, Meng, my mother, and my father, avoided being alone with me, as if they were afraid any intimacy in number would encourage an outpouring on my part. I was, for most practical purposes, a person in quarantine; my sickness was without cure and kept eating away at me until I could hardly see anything of myself.
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  • Stephanie Jane (Literary Flits)
    January 1, 1970
    See more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary FlitsAs I started to read How We Disappeared, I felt that it was fortuitously connected to my last Asian novel, The Garden of Evening Mists. That post-war Malaysian story included passing references to the ianfu (comfort women) and How We Disappeared is a fictionalised, but well researched, account from one such woman, Wang Di. To be honest, this is a horrific story. Not the novel itself, of course. Lee's delicate yet powerful prose style is perfe See more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary FlitsAs I started to read How We Disappeared, I felt that it was fortuitously connected to my last Asian novel, The Garden of Evening Mists. That post-war Malaysian story included passing references to the ianfu (comfort women) and How We Disappeared is a fictionalised, but well researched, account from one such woman, Wang Di. To be honest, this is a horrific story. Not the novel itself, of course. Lee's delicate yet powerful prose style is perfectly suited to the tale and I couldn't tear myself away from the pages. But imagining what those thousands of ianfu women endured firstly years of sexual abuse from the seemingly endless queues of Japanese soldiers and then, after the war ended, being shunned by their own families who frequently turned their backs on returning women because the shame was too much. A relation who has been mentally and physically almost destroyed by her wartime experience and she gets no help or 'comfort' herself because sex hurt her so everybody looks away and pretends she doesn't exist. It's heartbreaking.If I haven't scared you off yet though, and you enjoy good literary fiction, then this is absolutely a novel to pick up and read. Wang Di speaks to us in vivid remembrances of the past, but also of her life as the crazy old woman she has become. We learn of the sixty years following the war, her marriage and the ways in which she learned to cope, strategies that seem bizarre to outsiders yet are completely plausible when their roots are known. I was reminded of Sylvie in Marilynne Robinson's novel Housekeeping where a misunderstood woman encounters similar reactions to her behaviour. Then the connection with young Kevin is a lovely storyline and I appreciated its thoroughly believable conclusion. How We Disappeared is an amazing read that I think will become a classic.
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  • Aisha
    January 1, 1970
    I think Jing-Jing Lee made a brave decision to tell the stories of ethnic Chinese who lived in Singapore during the Japanese occupation,with a large focus on ‘comfort women’. How We Disappeared broke my heart, I won’t lie.Unlike a number of heartbreaking books I’ve read this year, its blurb laid out, briefly, what I was getting into but even that wasn’t enough to stop the triggers 😭. I think the fact that I never knew it really happened contributed to it. So if you’re easily triggered, by any fo I think Jing-Jing Lee made a brave decision to tell the stories of ethnic Chinese who lived in Singapore during the Japanese occupation,with a large focus on ‘comfort women’. How We Disappeared broke my heart, I won’t lie.Unlike a number of heartbreaking books I’ve read this year, its blurb laid out, briefly, what I was getting into but even that wasn’t enough to stop the triggers 😭. I think the fact that I never knew it really happened contributed to it. So if you’re easily triggered, by any form of rape/ sexual assault, I recommend you approach this book, very very carefully but don’t shy away from reading it because of the triggers. I say this because I feel this book is a silent ode, an apology of some sort, to women who lost their essences while being forced to experience unspeakable violations as “comfort women” for the same people who destroyed their lives.Having said all these, I want to commend Lee’s writing style. She used 3 voices, basically, but does it in a song-like manner. I’ll admit I found it confusing at the beginning but I fell in line along the way. I think with a little more work, the writing style will be perfect. I also admired how she was able to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, even the soldiers . Lee managed to convince me to re-evaluate the anger that developed while reading.I don’t not like anything about this book so it’s a 5-star read for me. I think it was beautifully written and I cried. A lot. I thank Jing-Jing Lee for allowing me cry for the women whose stories birthed this book. It’s my apology to them, my way of saying sorry that the world didn’t know about their struggles.I encourage you to get this book, read it, review it because think it would also be ode from you.Thank you Kate Bland at One World Publishing for sending me a review copy of this book. How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee will be out MAY 2ND
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  • Jacqie
    January 1, 1970
    This story had a lot of familiar story beats. It also had 2 point of view characters. And it went back and forth between WWII and more or less today. So, all of those things are not uncommon. The book failed to set itself apart for me.The First viewpoint is that of Wang Di. At the start of the book, she is mourning her dead husband, who wanted to know her past but was patient with her when she didn't want to talk. Now he's dead, and she's sorry she didn't share more. So you know the book is goin This story had a lot of familiar story beats. It also had 2 point of view characters. And it went back and forth between WWII and more or less today. So, all of those things are not uncommon. The book failed to set itself apart for me.The First viewpoint is that of Wang Di. At the start of the book, she is mourning her dead husband, who wanted to know her past but was patient with her when she didn't want to talk. Now he's dead, and she's sorry she didn't share more. So you know the book is going to be where she shares her horrible story of the Japanese occupation of Singapore during WWII and how she was forced to become a comfort woman. Next, we have Kevin. Kevin has the worst childhood ever. He is very short-sighted, almost blind. His parents are poor so he has ugly cheap glasses. He is teased and spit on, his notebooks are filled with foul language and dick drawings by other students who tease him, in short his life is a misery. I haven't gotten to how these two get together, and I'm going to set the book down. It is depressing, and I am not up for being edified on our horrible world by this book at this point. You may be in a different mind set.
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  • Ahaaha4
    January 1, 1970
    This book will tug at your heart, it will be difficult to read, your heart will actually break, but you will continue until the end because it is so important to read about how people have been treated throughout history. How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee will be released May 7th, make sure to put it on your to be read list. How We Disappeared takes place during 1942-1945 when the Japanese invade Singapore. It is about how the Japanese took in comfort women and the torture and abuse one partic This book will tug at your heart, it will be difficult to read, your heart will actually break, but you will continue until the end because it is so important to read about how people have been treated throughout history. How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee will be released May 7th, make sure to put it on your to be read list. How We Disappeared takes place during 1942-1945 when the Japanese invade Singapore. It is about how the Japanese took in comfort women and the torture and abuse one particular woman Wang Di endured day after day, month after month, year after year. It is the story of the shame she felt forcing her to keep her story to herself for sixty years. There are two storylines going on that come together in the end. This is one you don’t want to miss. Thank you NetGalley and Harlequin for an ARC of this book.
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  • Julia Tutt
    January 1, 1970
    This was a great story that just wasn't executed well. It's 3 stars for the story and characters, but it lost two stars due to it's inability to really land those two things perfectly. The ending wasn't satisfactory, the hints weren't clear, and it just didn't hit home.
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  • The Lit Bitch
    January 1, 1970
    4.5 stars I haven’t read a ton of Asian literature but I was eager to read this one because of one thing—the time period. My venture into Asian literature has come down to two books, Memoirs of a Geisha and Snowflower and the Secret Fan…..that is it. So when I agreed to read this book, I had no idea what I was going to get.I remember reading Memoirs of a Geisha and Snowflower and the Secret Fan and loving both of those. Especially Memoirs of a Geisha, mostly because it was set during WWII and th 4.5 stars I haven’t read a ton of Asian literature but I was eager to read this one because of one thing—the time period. My venture into Asian literature has come down to two books, Memoirs of a Geisha and Snowflower and the Secret Fan…..that is it. So when I agreed to read this book, I had no idea what I was going to get.I remember reading Memoirs of a Geisha and Snowflower and the Secret Fan and loving both of those. Especially Memoirs of a Geisha, mostly because it was set during WWII and the occupation of allied troops post war was very interesting to me.When this book came up for review, I was hoping it would be something similar to Memoirs of a Geisha, as it is set in the same time period, but this book promised to be a lot more interesting, as it talks about the Japanese occupying Singapore during the war instead of a pots war world.Plus that cover is to die for and I couldn’t pass on such a visually stunning cover!So it turns out, this book is nothing like Memoirs of a Geisha. It was so much darker and heavy and just not what I was expecting at all. The history in this book was absolutely brutal and heartbreaking. It was a tough book to read, not because it was poorly written or anything, but because it was just so sad!I am glad that I read this book, but I just wasn’t prepared for how sad it would make me feel and how hard it would be to read. I feel like I need a total feel good book after this one, because the book hangover I am feeling is so so so real right now.The historical research that went into this novel was fantastic. I loved reading all the rich history (albeit sad history) throughout this book. That made this book stand out. I loved the duel timelines and how they blended together so nicely. I thought it really kept the book on track and moving. It was also interesting to see the two gendered perspectives in this book. You don’t often get that with many novels and in this book I thought it worked really really well. The way the author incorporated the history of the time and the perspectives in the book really made it stand out. I felt like I was reading something genuine, authentic, and new.Overall while I thought this book was well written, beautiful and exceptionally well researched, I was so sad after reading it that I had a hard time giving it 5 stars for that reason alone. I ended up going with 4.5 stars because the sadness was real and I just don’t want people reading this book and thinking it’s going to leave them uplifted and happy. While the ending and everything made sense and left me feeling satisfied, my heart was still broken.See my full review here
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  • Janet
    January 1, 1970
    I received a DIGITAL Advance Reader Copy of this book from #NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. From the publisher, as I do not regurgitate the contents or story of books in reviews, I let them do it. A beautiful, stunningly ambitious novel set in World War II Singapore about a woman who survived the Japanese occupation and a man who thought he had lost everything—for fans of Pachinko and We Were the Lucky OnesSingapore, 1942. As Japanese troops sweep down Malaysia and into Singapore, a I received a DIGITAL Advance Reader Copy of this book from #NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. From the publisher, as I do not regurgitate the contents or story of books in reviews, I let them do it. A beautiful, stunningly ambitious novel set in World War II Singapore about a woman who survived the Japanese occupation and a man who thought he had lost everything—for fans of Pachinko and We Were the Lucky OnesSingapore, 1942. As Japanese troops sweep down Malaysia and into Singapore, a village is ransacked, leaving only two survivors and one tiny child.In a neighbouring village, seventeen-year-old Wang Di is strapped into the back of a troop carrier and shipped off to a Japanese military brothel where she is forced into sexual slavery as a “comfort woman.” After sixty years of silence, what she saw and experienced still haunts her.In the year 2000, twelve-year-old Kevin is sitting beside his ailing grandmother when he overhears a mumbled confession. He sets out to discover the truth, wherever it might lead, setting in motion a chain of events he never could have foreseen.Weaving together two timelines and two very big secrets, this stunning debut opens a window on a little-known period of history, revealing the strength and bravery shown by numerous women in the face of terrible cruelty. Drawing in part on her family’s experiences, Jing-Jing Lee has crafted a profoundly moving, unforgettable novel about human resilience, the bonds of family and the courage it takes to confront the past.The only great thing about chicken pox at age 52 (and being a super- speed reader) is you can easily read and review four+++ books a day..and this was an excellent book to have spent an hour or two (or many more on your side) with.This is a beautiful yet brutal story that conjoined history and personal history. I cannot even imagine going through and surviving what wand Di went through: I would just burl up and die instead of surviving and going through what she went endured. The story was masterfully crafted and it is just amazing ... this is a book that is screaming to be discussed at a book club - aren't family secrets and personal histories just tragic yet juicy to talk about? As always, I try to find a reason to not rate with stars as I love emojis (outside of their incessant use on Instagram and Twitter) so let's give it ☕☕☕☕☕ as you will want to stay up late and finish it so you may need the caffeine.
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  • L A
    January 1, 1970
    Thanks to Oneworld Publications and NetGalley for the Advance Review Copy in exchange for an honest review.What a book. It has been a long while since I felt myself so emotionally affected after reading a book. I started and finished this book almost in one sitting and was utterly gripped by the story.The main character of this book is Wang Di, an elderly woman who lived through the Japanese occupation of Singapore during World War II. The story flashbacks to her experiences during this time, as Thanks to Oneworld Publications and NetGalley for the Advance Review Copy in exchange for an honest review.What a book. It has been a long while since I felt myself so emotionally affected after reading a book. I started and finished this book almost in one sitting and was utterly gripped by the story.The main character of this book is Wang Di, an elderly woman who lived through the Japanese occupation of Singapore during World War II. The story flashbacks to her experiences during this time, as well as her life in the present day. We also have the perspective view of Kevin, a twelve year old boy who tasks himself with unlocking a long held family secret.This book is beautifully written and has a surprisingly fast paced and exciting plot for this genre. It is not an easy read by any means, Wang Di's experiences as a 'comfort woman' during the war are horrific and heartbreaking and the human capacity for cruelty made me want to curl into a ball and cry at certain points. I was also very affected by the loneliness of Wang Di's current day life and the attitude of those around her towards her quirky 'collecting' habits.That said, there is beauty and hope here too. Wang Di's love story with her husband, Kevin's relationship with his family and also Wang Di's close female friendships during her time in captivity reminds us that there is love at even the bleakest of times.This novel explores the enduring trauma of war and the resulting mental scars and grief that can last a lifetime. Other themes explored include secrets, memories, mental illness and what is left unsaid and the historical context of the Japanese occupation and the real life horrors experienced by those living under it.  Powerful, thought provoking and beautifully written. This novel will stick with me for a long time.
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  • Sue
    January 1, 1970
    I have read many books about the effects of WWII on the people of Europe but this is the first book that I've read about life in Singapore during the occupation by the Japanese. Parts of this book were difficult to read but the novel is beautifully written and a wonderful testament to the women who survived this time period. It is a book that I won't soon forget.This novel is told in 2 time periods. The first time period in 1942 when 16 year old Wang Di is taken from her home and family and sent I have read many books about the effects of WWII on the people of Europe but this is the first book that I've read about life in Singapore during the occupation by the Japanese. Parts of this book were difficult to read but the novel is beautifully written and a wonderful testament to the women who survived this time period. It is a book that I won't soon forget.This novel is told in 2 time periods. The first time period in 1942 when 16 year old Wang Di is taken from her home and family and sent to be a 'comfort woman' for the troops. It was difficult to read about her sexual slavery and the life she was forced into. The second time period is 1960. Wang Di lives with her son, daughter in law and grandson, Kevin. Twelve year old Kevin is loved by his family but bullied by his friends. When he inadvertently learns a little bit about the secret his grandmother has been keeping for her long life, he decides to do some detective work and bring the secrets to light for the family. He starts down a path that will change his life and the life of his family.Weaving together these two timelines this debut novel educates us on a little-known period of history, revealing the strength and bravery shown by numerous women in the face of terrible cruelty. A profoundly moving novel, it is based partly on the author's great-grandfather’s experiences.This ultimately is the story of love and family and the resilience to overcome whatever happens in life.Thanks to the publisher for a copy of this book to read and review. All opinions are my own.
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