How We Disappeared

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 27 Mar 2019

Member Reviews

The history in this book is brutal and at times brought tears to my eyes. 
The writing is not the best but it’s an amazing book.
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A haunting story that flips back and forth between 2 main characters and different timelines. I found it a little difficult to get into to begin with but really enjoyed it.
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How We Disappeared tells the tragic story of Wang Di, a woman who gets taken away as a teenager by the Japanese army during their occupation of Singapore. She is then forced into sexual slavery for three years. Sixty years later, she is still haunted by the trauma she had to live through. Wang Di’s story is weaved together with Kevin’s - a schoolboy, who hears his grandmother confess to a life-changing secret on her deathbed. Determined to find out the truth, Kevin sets out to find out answers.

This novel was stunning. From beginning to end. Jing-Jing Lee’s writing is masterful, touching and absolutely terrifying at times. I found myself holding my breath so many times throughout the story. Other times, the subject matter got so heavy, so horrifying that I had to look away and compose myself for a minute before I could continue. I didn’t just read about Wang Di’s story, I felt like I was a silent observer to all the atrocities she had to live through and couldn’t do a thing to help. 

What an incredibly important book about a time period probably not many know about. Kudos to Lee for writing such a powerful and unforgettable novel. She’s an author I will be looking out for again in the near future.

Many thanks to OneWorld for an ARC via NetGalley.
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This was not an easy book to read because it reflected the tragic lives of so many people in China during the second world war, not just the fictional characters. It traces the journey of two families torn apart by the invasion of Japan, both families suffering unbelievable cruelty and deprivation. It takes Kevin, a young boy, to discover some secrets of the past and join broken links.
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Thank you to netgalley.co.uk for giving me a free book in exchange for an honest review.

If I am sincere, I requested this book thinking it was going to be some non-fiction/memoir book. But I'm glad that I did read the book. As someone who is interested in history, there is so much much I want to learn about, the Japanese occupation is one of those topics, that's what first interested me about this book. This historical fiction is one that will sure tug on your heartstrings and make you think when people think of the second world war, they would most likely only think of the terrors of the Holocaust, but many other travesties were going on during that time. I hope this book will get that fact out there to many more readers. I thought author did an amazing job with this novel, and I look forward to reading more of her work.
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Beautifully written, this book has stayed with me after reading it. Not many books do that with me these days, so that should be an indication of just how good it is. The very sensitive subject matter is handled well, and written in such a way that it gave me a true insight into other situations, and the hardships some people have had to endure. Don't miss this one.
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‘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 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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I wasn’t sure what to make of this but thought I would expand my reading and am so glad I did.  This book kept me gripped from the first page where Wang Di tells the reader two stories of how she may have been welcomed into the world.  
The book is told in two times frames and two perspectives both on the island of Singapore.  In 1942 we meet Wang Di a seventeen year old girl who is just waiting for the matchmaker to find her a husband, once her family agree, but then the Japanese invade.  In 2000 twelve year old Kevin is trying to get through the perils of being a child in today’s world and grief on the loss of his grandmother.  
It was like a thriller you knew what was going to happen to Wang Di but you dread it with every page and hope for a happy ending.  Knowing that the story is based in historical truths the  happy ending seems unlikely.  
I loved this book and how the story of Wang Di unravelled before becoming whole again.  I would highly recommend this book and enjoyed learning about the history of Singapore as I learned Wang Di’s.
Thanks to OneWorld publications and NetGalley for an ARC.
#NetGalley #HowWeDisappeared
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This is a historical fiction book set during the Japanese occupation of Singapore. It has two timeline perspectives, one in the 1940's during the occupation and the other in the 2000's. This is quite a hard read, due to the subject matter, but I think it is so important to know about the history of the world. I did find the switches in perspective a little jarring at times but overall this is well worth a read.
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"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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