There are two ways to disappear. One is to hide yourself from fear; the other is to lose your voice because you’ve been forcibly silenced. In Jing-Jing Lee’s novel, How We Disappeared, with a dual timeline in 1942 Singapore during World War II and 2000, we get both kinds of disappearance. Wang Di has been married for decades and although her husband has tried to share his war-time experiences with her, it isn’t until he dies and is physically gone, that she starts to try to discover who he was before he disappeared forever. Maybe because she was afraid she’d have to reciprocate and tell him the story of her own past as a comfort woman in a brothel during the Japanese occupation of her country. Then there’s the boy Kevin whose grandmother Ah Ma has suffered a series of strokes and now that he is aware of the finite moments they still have together, he’s paying closer attention to her stories than anyone would expect from a twelve-year-old boy with serious myopia.
In How We Disappeared, we learn some harrowing details of the Japanese occupation of Singapore but also the social hierarchy that existed even prior to the war, where British and Australian ex-patriats set a standard of abuse that only fed into the shame and fear that these village people internalized. Through difficult-to-read scenes that were based in part on real experiences of her own family members, author Jing-Jing Lee did an expert job portraying the strength and resilience of women through the ages, especially in a patriarchal society that saw women as utilities. Thus, despite the title, we see the different ways that the characters dealt with difficult situations and how instead of fading into nothingness, their stories live on to impact readers in the present-day. Since this is a little-known part of history, this book feels like a must-read for everyone wanting to broaden their understanding of world history.
- Title: How We Disappeared,
- Author: Jing-Jing Lee
- Pages: 352
- Publisher: Hanover Square Press
- Publication Date: May 7, 2019
Thanks to TLC Book Tours and Hanover Square Press for providing me with an Advanced Reader Copy. All views expressed in this review are my own.