Thursday, 2 May 2019

How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee


How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee
Published in the UK by Oneworld today, the 2nd May 2019.

Featured in 5Books1Theme: Blindness and WorldReads: Singapore, one of my 2019 New Release Challenge reads and my Book Of The Month for May 2019

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



Singapore, 1942. As Japanese troops sweep down Malaysia and into Singapore, a village is ransacked, leaving only three survivors, one of them a 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. After sixty years of silence, what she saw and experienced there still haunts her.

And 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 could never have foreseen.

Weaving together two timelines and two very big secrets, this evocative, profoundly moving and utterly dazzling debut opens a window on a little-known period of history, and heralds the arrival of a thrilling new literary star.

As 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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10 comments:

  1. That sounds like it would be a hard book to read emotionally.

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    1. Yes, very much so and especially because it is so well researched so there's a lot of truth woven into the fiction

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  2. Sounds like an interesting story.

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  3. I was about to say, it seems like you're very much enjoying your Asian literature lately but then you said it in the review yourself! It does sound like an emotionally moving book and another one that uses the time period and setting well... you're book blog is not good for my tbr list :P

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    1. I've had a good run of Asian fiction recently and still a couple more to read :-)

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  4. I used to read a lot of asian fiction and non fiction during my bookcrossing days!

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    1. I haven't done proper bookcrossing in ages. I frequently use Little Libraries and book exchanges, but gave up registering the books because there was rarely any response

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  5. I am about to begin this one for a blogging tour and am excited to see you gave it 5 out of 5!

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    1. I hope you love the story as much as I did!

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