How We Disappeared: An Important Story of Comfort Women || A Book Review

How We Disappeared

Author: Jing-Jing Lee

Publisher:  Oneworld Publications

Released: February 6th, 2020

Genre: Historical fiction

Pages: 352

Format: Paperback

Characters: Ng Wang Di, Chia Soon Wei, Kevin Lim, …

A novel set in Singapore about a woman who survived the Japanese occupation and a man who thought he had lost everything.

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 neighbouring village, seventeen-year-old Wang Di is bundled into the back of a troop carrier and shipped off to a Japanese military brothel where she is forced into sexual slavery. After sixty years of silence, what she saw and experienced there still haunts her present.

In the year 2000, twelve-year-old Kevin is determined to find out the truth – wherever it might lead – after his grandmother makes a surprising confession on her deathbed, one she never meant Kevin to hear, setting in motion a chain of events he could never have foreseen.

Weaving together two timelines and two very big secrets, this debut opens a window on a little-known period of history. 

Source: Goodreads

I started this book by crying as I flipped through the first 30 pages. No, I’m not exaggerating (note: this may not apply to every reader). How We Disappeared started off strongly and it made me very emotional. Oh gosh, it did.

“You find things you’re not ready to see when you go looking.”
– Jing-Jing Lee, How We Disappeared

This book is separated into 3 parts. As the book started off so strong, I got a bit impatient as I reached the middle section of Part 1. It was when the Japanese invaded Singapore and I’ve read this many times that it didn’t add anything new for me, until – I reached the last 2 pages of Part 1. It was just the heaviest subject matter that I have ever come across: comfort women. This is the very first time I encountered this subject and hell, I wasn’t prepared. Carrying on to Part 2, it didn’t get easier. It’s safe to say that if you’re planning to read books for fun or pleasure, this is not it.

This book highlights on comfort women, as in what they went through, how they felt, how the things they experienced affected them and how it slowly changed them and drew out their once innocent and upbeat spirit. Their whole childhood was ripped away from them and the description of what these women went through, including being raped non-stop every single day was strong and vivid. Their emotions and mental health was also slowly deteriorating and it was disturbing to read this book. However, it is important for us to be aware of this subject matter, for us to acknowledge it and let ourselves to be in their shoes through this story.

“Time is a funny thing. Or time is relative, like I read somewhere. A relatively funny thing – how it speeds by when you have something to look forward to or when you need to get something done desperately (…). How it slows down when you have nothing to do.
– Jing-Jing Lee, How We Disappeared

This book also deals with facing the truth. Not only talking about it, also listening and understanding the past. How the past is important for both the victims as well as for us, who live in the present or the future generations even. All of these make me appreciate those who go through all the trouble searching information about the past and write them down, document all these important events for us to read and watch and understand the past.

Plot wise, I think this book could be confusing to some as it involves two timelines: Wang Di’s past and present and two different perspectives: Kevin’s and Wang Di’s. However, I was able to follow through these chapters easily and I found that the plot line and chapters are well organised and was given a thorough planning. From it started right to the resolution, I think it was written beautifully. I love the ending, how every question was answered and was given a nice conclusion. It ended with warmness of family and acceptance.

I absolutely adore the characters. Wang Di’s resilience, Kevin’s determination and resourcefulness, Soon Wei’s love and care for his wife, and nothing but love for the rest of the characters. I think there’s chemistry between all the characters and the personalities given really work for each of the character.

I’d highly recommend this book but do take your time with it, as I said previously, this book is not easy. It’s not light, it’s heavy but it’s important for us to know this story.

Thank you Times Reads for sending this book in exchange for an honest review.

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