REVIEW: How We Disappeared, Jing-Jing Lee

Tuesday, 19 May 2020

REVIEW: How We Disappeared, Jing-Jing Lee banner graphic

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.

At its core, How We Disappeared focusses on a forgotten facet of history: the existence of the so-called "comfort women" of World War 2 or, to put it more factually (and therefore, less euphemistically), the young girls and women who were forced into sexual slavery by the forces of Imperial Japan. It is a disgusting, horrifying part of reality; one buried and overlooked by both history books and the cultures that once perpetuated it. Because of that, it is a part of history where the women involved (those who are still alive and therefore, are still able to) have yet to fully recover from. And, how could they? To be sold/tricked/forced into sexual slavery and then shamed for it, if/when they returned home. If I prayed, I would for them; belying that, I hold them near and dear to my heart - always to be remembered, never to be forgotten.
But, even though this novel opened my eyes to their reality, I am still forced to give it a low rating. Because, its focus - which should have been solely on the experiences of these women - meandered and blurred into multiple narrative threads. The inclusion of the surplus chapters pulled the audience away from the true message of the tale and turned its plot into something cold and confused. It should have done them justice but, for me at least, it fell way short of ever achieving that mark.

star rating: two stars

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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