Set in Singapore, How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee is a deeply affecting story about a comfort woman during Japanese Occupation. This book is longlisted for the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction.
Wang Di was only seventeen when she was taken from her family and forced into a sexual slavery for the Japanese soldiers. After the war, traumatised and embarrassed by the events she had been through, she remained silent about her past but carried the emotional scars to her old age. She got married to a widower who was also a war victim and lost all his family during the war. He sensed her dark past and what’s been still haunting her to present days but she refused to talked about it whenever he tried to raise the subject of it.
Intertwined with Wang Di’s past and present, another touching story was told by a 12 years old Kevin in the year 2000. His ailing grandmother confessed to him about the secret she had been keeping herself before she passed away. Curious but clueless about what she said, he tried to find out the truth while he tried to waltz between his parents and his school. What unveiled was something he had never expected.
The writer has impeccably interwoven these two stories with haunting past. It is a very stirring novel highlighting one of the prominent events the women in Japanese occupied countries encountered. The brilliant use of contrasting tone of narratives for two entirely different generations is something I truly love in this book. While it is distressing to read Wing Di’s post war experience, it is totally heartwarming when it comes to Kevin’s part.
In my opinion, Wang Di’s story itself might have been enough for the novel. However, Jing-Jing Lee craftily added the story of Kevin uncovering the mystery of his grandma’s past which interestingly linked to Wang Di’s present. Another thing I like about the novel is the writer showcased the lives of the forgotten old people in modern Singapore in a glimpse. All in all, this historical fiction was a very moving and satisfying read.
I’ve read about comfort women in a couple of other books. White Chrysanthemum by Mary Lynn Bracht mainly focuses on the story of Korean comfort women. In Malaysian writer Tan Twan Eng’s the Garden of Evening Mists, it is briefly featured, too. There are a few other books about comfort women and I shall find and read them as well. What I have been thinking recently is that my country had also been under Japanese Occupation. However, there’s a lack of book about comfort women in Myanmar literature. I’ve read about girls and women being raped or molested by the Japanese soldiers at that time. There are stories about it but none of them central or talk about comfort women in Myanmar. Or I failed to come across to them?