09 Dec / How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee [in Booklist]
Singaporean born, Oxford-educated, Amsterdam-domiciled Jing-Jing Lee opens her expansive, extraordinary debut novel with a reclamatory dedication: “For all the grandmas (halmonies, lolas and amas) who told their stories, so that I could tell this one.” Lee’s rescue of stories belonging to older women is remarkable here – from contemporary elderly all but discarded by modern society to aging women whose abominable pasts were silenced because of misdirected shame. Wang Di is such a woman: in 2000 Singapore, she’s a new widow who collects cardboard to stay alive; 60 years earlier, she was an enslaved comfort woman to Japanese soldiers during World War II, an experience she’s never been allowed to divulge since war’s end.
Narrator Angela Lin facilely manifests the many decades of Wang Di’s life, her hopeful youth, her dehumanizing slavery, her redeeming relationships, her depleting return to family, her restorative marriage, her accepting old age. Interwoven with Wang Di’s narrative is 12-year-old Kevin Lim’s contemporary quest to understand a mysterious legacy left by his late grandmother. Voiced by newcomer Ryun Yu, Kevin aurally matures from bullied timidity to confident kindness and wise-beyond-his-years empathy, as his search leads him to Wang Di – and all the stories they have yet to share. Their intertwined legacy proves lifesaving.