How We Disappeared by Jing Jing Lee: A Book Review

I’m a huge fan of WWII fiction and non-fiction, but most of what I read tends to be about the Holocaust and the Nazis.

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Jing Jing Lee’s new book, How We Disappeared, tells the story of people in Singapore, which is occupied by the Japanese army during WWII.  There are several story lines that run concurrently.

Wang Di is the main character, and her story is told in two different time periods–the present and during WWII.

During the present, she is an elderly widow who has just lost her husband.  She’s angry that her husband tried to tell her what he suffered through in WWII, but she couldn’t ever let him tell his story completely because it caused her too much anxiety thinking about what SHE suffered through during the war.  Now he’s gone, and she’s desperate to learn his story.

Wang Di’s second story line during the war is painful to read.  She is a 17 year old virgin, living with a father who always wanted boys, when she is kidnapped by the Japanese army and taken to the “black and white house.”  There, she suffers unbelievable atrocities at the hands of the Japanese soldiers in her role as a “comfort woman.”  A nice name for a horrible existence.

The story also follows Kevin, a 12 year old with thick glasses who is routinely teased by his classmates.  Kevin’s grandma lives with the family, but she suffers a stroke and is hospitalized.  While at the hospital, she mistakenly thinks that Kevin is her son, and when she is alone with him, she makes a shocking confession.  After the grandmother’s death, Kevin seeks to unravel the mystery of his grandmother’s life.

This book is excellent; I read the second half compulsively, neglecting my freelance work and my household chores so I could finish the book.  I was haunted by the secrets that Wang Di and her husband, The Old One, kept from each other and how three horrible years of war affected them for the rest of their lives.

However, I was deeply disappointed with the last two pages of the book, enough for the book to go from 5 stars to 4.  If only there was a different ending!

I give this book 4 out of 5 stars on the Mom’s Plans’ scale.

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