How We Disappeared

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 02 May 2019

Member Reviews

"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. 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.

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.
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This beautifully written story laments the damage done to relationships and individuals, by keeping secrets considered ‘shameful’ and not speaking out of what is buried deep inside us; how this affects future love, ‘self-growth’ and respect.

Wang Di and Soon Wei have been married for over 50 years. Each kept quiet about their respective catastrophic wartime experiences, each trying to ‘protect’ the other and one bearing a deep ‘shame’ which she was warned never to speak about by her own mother – particularly to her husband.  Wang Di is Soon Wei’s second wife – she never questions where he vanishes to every February and he never gives an explanation. When he dies, she has so many questions unanswered and secrets unvoiced.

Alongside their story is a modern one about Wei Han, or ‘Kevin’, a curious 12 year old who is losing his sight. He loves his Grandma dearly and inherits her tape recorder with which he hopes to prepare himself for the blindness which is expected in his future. On her deathbed she believes Wei Han is his father and is taped making a confusing confession to him .

Both our main characters, Wang Di and Wei Han are eager to discover the truth about their recently lost loved ones. The story is their journeys of discovery, their determination and how both become stronger people – the result is uplifting and life affirming. I love this book; how it’s written, its message, its philosophy.

Shocking, gritty in places (where required), the author does not shy away from horror and despair where it needs to be described. The title suggests not only how society made certain people ‘disappear’ – namely the ‘Comfort Women’, and those witness to atrocities in WWII but also how individuals try to make parts of their very being ‘disappear’ when it is too hurtful to remember or reveal to someone else – even their closest loved ones. A real gem of a book.
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A heart-breaking story. It was fascinating to learn more about Singapore during the war and I loved the weaving together of two timelines - old and modern.This book will stay with me. Sensitive writing on a difficult subject.
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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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This book is a work of art. I loved absolutely everything about it. Set in Singapore during the Japanese occupation, it tells the story of a woman who lived in abhorrent circumstances and survived. It is lightly interwoven with the story of her husband and the horrors he too experienced at the hands of the Japanese.

It isn't an easy story to read but it is so worth it. By the end my heart was broken, but my mind and soul felt so enriched. An incredibly powerful story that will stay with me for a long time.
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