How We Disappeared


Hanover Square Press
April 3rd 2019
August 19, 2020 August 30, 2020

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 neighboring village, seventeen-year-old Wang Di is strapped into the back of a troop carrier and shipped off to a Japanese military brothel where she is forced into sexual slavery as a "comfort woman." After sixty years of silence, what she saw and experienced still haunts her.

In the year 2000, twelve-year-old Kevin is sitting beside his ailing grandmother when he overhears a mumbled confession. He sets out to discover the truth, wherever it might lead, setting in motion a chain of events he never could have foreseen.

Weaving together two time lines and two very big secrets, this stunning debut opens a window on a little-known period of history, revealing the strength and bravery shown by numerous women in the face of terrible cruelty. Drawing in part on her family's experiences, Jing-Jing Lee has crafted a profoundly moving, unforgettable novel about human resilience, the bonds of family and the courage it takes to confront the past.

About the book

How We Disappeared is a book that narrates the true story of oriental women at the time of the Japanese occupation in China, of how they were kidnapped from their villages, often even in different countries, to be locked up in pleasure homes for Japanese soldiers. We follow the direct story of Wang Di from the time she was born until her old age and of a little boy whose grandmother, on her deathbed, makes a revelation that will upset his life and that of his family.

Premise. This book is not suitable for everyone. There is talk of violence and states of starvation that can hurt the most sensitive minds. And even the strongest ones like it happened to me. So take all precautions to read this book.

What I think

I knew the subject was difficult, but nevertheless I struggled to read it. I love Japan, I love its culture and language even if I do not know it and I have tried several times to learn it (but I always stopped at the two syllables, the quarantine made me resume the language, let’s see if I can learn more), but until recently I did not know this aspect of the past. I saw a video on Youtube while I was trying to learn Korean (also here let’s not talk about my constancy) and in addition to the videos on the language, I also saw a video in which an elderly lady introduced herself and it is thanks to her testimony that I found out what happened. After hearing her testimony, I was unable to eat and for several days I could not think about what these women, girls, often a little more than children, have suffered. And it happened with this book too. At the end of the first part I had to stop and for a whole day I was unable to pick up the book. Because in both cases, both in the book and in the video, the details of their captivity are explained in great detail and especially in the video, seeing the reaction of that kind lady to the memory of that past struck me a lot.

There is a “mystery” in the book, which is what the grandmother of the boy I mentioned earlier says just before she dies and I liked that and that’s what kept me going with the book (since it’s not really a genre that I read). I liked how the two stories intertwine and also how it ends, with an ending that is up to us to continue, although I don’t usually like these endings, here it is right how it ends.

Now, without getting too involved in politics, let’s talk a little about Japan and its population. Did I change my mind about my love for Japan after reading this book? No. First of all, I haven’t experienced these events firsthand and I don’t live in that part of the world, so I can’t blame an entire population now in 2020, for things that happened in the past. It is as if I blame the Germans of today for destroying half of Europe in the 1940s or if I blamed my own people for the fascist laws of 80 years ago. No, we need to move on and learn from the mistakes our ancestors made. I will continue to love Japan even though I know this dark side of history. I say this because I have often found myself in front of real hatred towards the Japanese by Chinese and Koreans, so much so that reading comments posted under videos concerning the 2011 earthquake, I was horrified. I know that the Japanese government does not admit this fact, but it is like those who deny that the Holocaust existed. Are they right? No. Should I blame an entire population for this, when there are people in that population who admit this sad truth? No. So if a government does not admit that a fact actually existed, it does not mean that it represents the thought of all the people.

In conclusion, I liked the book, I recommend it even if the reader must pay attention to the subject because it is not easy to read certain facts.

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