“How We Disappeared” by Jing-Jing Lee

Thanks to Oneworld Publications and NetGalley for the Advance Review Copy in exchange for an honest review.

What a book. It has been a long while since I felt myself so emotionally affected after reading a book. I started and finished this book almost in one sitting and was utterly gripped by the story.

The main character of this book is Wang Di, an elderly woman who lived through the Japanese occupation of Singapore during World War II. The story flashbacks to her experiences during this time, as well as her life in the present day. We also have the perspective view of Kevin, a twelve year old boy who tasks himself with unlocking a long held family secret.

This book is beautifully written and has a surprisingly fast paced and exciting plot for this genre. It is not an easy read by any means, Wang Di’s experiences as a ‘comfort woman’ during the war are horrific and heartbreaking and the human capacity for cruelty made me want to curl into a ball and cry at certain points. I was also very affected by the loneliness of Wang Di’s current day life and the attitude of those around her towards her quirky ‘collecting’ habits.

That said, there is beauty and hope here too. Wang Di’s love story with her husband, Kevin’s relationship with his family and also Wang Di’s close female friendships during her time in captivity reminds us that there is love at even the bleakest of times.

This novel explores the enduring trauma of war and the resulting mental scars and grief that can last a lifetime. Other themes explored include secrets, memories, mental illness and what is left unsaid and the historical context of the Japanese occupation and the real life horrors experienced by those living under it.

This was my 100th netgalley review and what a book to achieve this milestone with. Powerful, thought provoking and beautifully written. This novel will stick with me for a long time.

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