Title: How We Disappeared
Author: Jing-Jing Lee
Publisher: Hanover Square Press
Page Count: 350
Publication Date: 2019
Category/Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction, War, Cultural, Asia,
Good Reads Rating: ★★★★☆ (4.18)
My Rating: ★★★★☆(4.0)
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 neighboring 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 time lines 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 prompt for my 2020 Reading Challenge was to read a book about a survivor of a war, oppression, genocide, or trauma.
How We Disappeared In the 1940s many women were taken captive by Japanese Soldiers to become ‘comfort women’ — a title and role that was laden only with trauma and violence, not comfort.
It chronicles one young woman’s harrowing experience and a life full of shame after her ordeal during the Japanese occupation in Singapore in WWII which took place from 1942 to 1945. It was a brutal read but necessary as these women (only 10% are reported to have ever survived the houses) were often forced into silence upon return into society. In order for this history to not disappear, it is important to give them voices, memories, and life.
“And then, after the horror during what was supposed to be her best years, how her mother’s words, the shame foisted on her by herself, her family, and everyone around her, had dictated the silence that shadowed her every move after the war.”
The story is woven together through Wang Di’s dual narrative of past and present along with a second narrator, a 12-year-old bullied boy in the present. The way that Lee brought these two storylines together was breathtaking and created a masterful impact of why silence needs to be broken.
One of the more striking points for me was the tenderness and acceptance that a handful of characters showed. This is where humanity shines and is able to grow and move forward and Lee was able to demonstrate this beautifully.
I highly recommend this book if you enjoy historical fiction to help educate and inform yourself about times past and bring history to life.
I will note that there are strong themes of violence, rape, bullying, shame.