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The Water Beetles

really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating details ·  198 ratings  ·  40 reviews
The Leung family leads a life of secluded luxury in Hong Kong. But in December 1941, the Empire of Japan invades the colony. The family is quickly dragged into a spiral of violence, repression, and starvation. To survive, they entomb themselves and their friends in the Leung mansion. But this is only a temporary reprieve, and the Leungs are forced to send their children aw ...more
Paperback, 350 pages
Published April 11th 2017 by Goose Lane Editions
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really liked it Average rating 4.00  · 
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 ·  198 ratings  ·  40 reviews

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Alice Poon
If I am not mistaken, this novel is the first fictional work that is based on events of the 1941 Japanese invasion of Hong Kong and the subsequent occupation that lasted three years and eight months. The author says in “Acknowledgments” that the book draws on his father’s memoirs and most of the core incidents in the narrative are based on real events.

Being a Hong Kong native, I have obvious personal reasons for picking up this book, as my mother in her childhood had watched her mother being ki
Shawn Mooney (Shawn The Book Maniac)
In this tale—based on his father's memoir—Kaan chronicles the harrowing experiences of a Hong Kong boy trying to survive the Japanese invasion and WW2. Child narrators present pitfalls, but this point of view is deftly handled here. Too, there are many, many simply written scenes of much power. But the novel needed paring, shaping, and it sputters and stalls almost every time the prose grasps for metaphor, image, or more flowery language.
Apr 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Very well written, very heavy, very learned and informative. I don't know that I enjoyed reading Water Beetles -- it was so horrific to learn of the living nightmare experience of the Chinese at the hands of the occupying Japanese -- but I'm very grateful to Michael Kaan for bringing this story to my attention. It's history that I don't, as a Canadian, have much knowledge about. We get so much European and North American history growing up, but there's so much more to the world that we don't get taught. I ...more
Sep 04, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017
This was painful. There is something about the author's style that just doesn't work for me. For the majority of this short novel, I was bored stiff. Then, there were a few sections that really captured the brutality and ugliness of war that, while they weren't excessively graphic, were so brutal in contrast to the rest of the writing, that they literally made me nauseated.

The author jumps around in time, too, without warning and in a way that doesn't make sense. In many of the chapters, the pr
Dec 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: can-con, 2017
I'm watching the beetle. Not the beetle I wish I was, but the bigger one who wants to kill it. Mine is golden-green, small and easy to spot. Just behind it is the larger one with a shiny, deep-black carapace, so black it seems to drink the light right from my eyes. The big one hasn't struck mine yet, it's only watching, and it tastes the air ahead to see when it should act. I can see it will strike and win, and the beetle I wish I was will die. Like everyone else, it is at war, which means its
Aug 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Short and superb novel based on the experiences of the author's grandfather's boyhood in southern china during the japanese occupation in ww2. The story is brutal but beautifully told. The observations are profound. Could/should be a contender in Canada Reads this year. Highly recommended.
Oct 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed reading this book and learning more about the occupation of China during WWII.

This book was told as flashbacks, which I am grateful for. The only way I could get through reading about the past was the promise that the main character and his family survive what happened to them.
Mar 08, 2019 added it
Shelves: 2019
Hard to read. I needed to take lots of breaks.
P. 236
“There’s another boy I always wish I could console, although I’ve failed to. Strange to feel so powerless, like Mrs. Yee at our old dinner table. It’s the boy I was then. He shouldn’t exist anymore. He should have faded away with my teens, as my teenaged self should have faded away into adulthood, leaving me unburdened, with just my eighty-six-year-old self to worry over.
But the boy I was still feels real and separate. He’s there still,
Jane Broadribb
Oct 07, 2018 rated it liked it
semi- biographical hard to imagine story about Chinese prisoners during the Japanese invasion of China... children... sometimes I lose heart at the lack of humanity in humans... we are often a mighty and terrible species.
Sep 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Devastating story of the author's father's experience as a young boy in Hong Kong during WWII. Beautifully written. Heartbreaking.
Jul 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
I grew up listening to my grandparents talk about the horrors of living in occupied China during World War II. My parents were both born during the war and I cannot imagine what deprivation they endured though I know that my mother will not eat sweet potatoes because they remind her of the starvation that she experienced as a child.

This is probably the only book that I have read that deals with the story of the Chinese under the occupation of the Japanese Imperial Army. The brutality
Mary Anne
Sep 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: country-read
A book that is hard to read, about the violence of displacement in times of war. It is well written with just enough time shifting to alleviate the horror of the cruelty of soldiers to civilians, women and children alike.
Apr 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book was absolutely wonderful. I couldn't stop reading it but then I also didn't want it to end. I have read many different books from many different perspectives of World War 2. This was one that I had never read about. It's sad, it's beautiful, it's thoughtful and heart wrenching. What a powerful way to share his father's story with the world. A must read !
Jun 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
The Water Beetles is a very powerful book based somewhat on the author's father's experiences during the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong. Resilience and commitment help to mitigate the brutality of Chung- Man and his family's life during this time, but its a stark read nonetheless.
Jul 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
Tightly written, clean prose with a progression that kept drawing me into this world. The sharp imagery stays with me.
Heike Lttrr
Apr 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book tells the very compelling story of the Leung family's survival through the eyes of the children, a boy, in particular, after Japan invades Hong Kong during World War II. The children make a variety of short-lived, often difficult relationships with the people they encounter after the invasion, fleeing their city and the Japanese, and then being captured by the Japanese. These children see things that no one should ever see, and bear witness to some of the cruelest aspects of war and th ...more
Jul 16, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: bookclub
A citizen from Lille from "The Alice Network"
"Those who have never suffered an enemy invasion in their own land, can never understand what war truly is".

In the turmoil of our present political climate, this book written in 2017 tells a sobering story. An upper class Hong Kong Chinese family and especially the young hero, Chung Man, suffer as the Japanese storm and occupy their city. It's a tale of going from comfort to suffering, having plenty and having nothing, having a home and b
Jan 16, 2018 rated it liked it
Kaan's exploration of war from the point of view of a 12-year-old Chinese boy caught up in the Japanese occupation is engaging, upsetting, and occasionally beautiful. Kaan manages moments in which he limns well the ways in which trauma taints those who survive it, and I did often find myself reading just one more chapter when I ought to have gone to bed. Still, I would say that while it is likely to add to one's historical knowledge and while it offers us a subject for whom we feel great pity, i ...more
Steven Buechler
Sep 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is one of these books that takes a element from the history pages and gives readers a much more in-depth understanding of the events that occurred. Kaan has crafted the memories of his father into the story of Chung-Man Leung, who is coming of age in December 1941. Chung-Man’s life is comfortable and he is curious about the world around him but the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong throws his existence into turmoil as he and his family are faced with a trove of violence and repression.
Jo-Ann Jones
Sep 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A very compelling read, I couldn't put it down. Here the story of a wealthy Chinese youth, living in Hong Kong, when the Japanese invade, commandeering food, water and homes. My dad had been in WW II but in the European theatre of war. He would never return there and rarely spoke of it. So it's even more significant when the war is right in your own back yard, as it was for the Chinese. Kaan handles it with incredible strength by describing the scenes of war, what is has done to others and how t ...more
Enid Wray
Aug 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Devastating. Illuminating. Must read.
This is an horrific novel… but oh so necessary. The author lays bare the vivid reality of the fact of a war… the horror of a war.
Some of the scenes are painted so vividly - evidencing such brutality - as to have me feeling almost sick to my stomach while reading, and having to stop reading, take a break.
Yet, there is also the tenderness - and the comedy, albeit often black - of everyday life, and of family, and community.
A beautifully rende
Aug 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
The fictionalized story of a young boy and his family in occupied Hong Kong, Not a subject I'm familiar with. Based loosely on the diaries of the author's father. Touching, heartbreaking. Another look at the atrocities that humans commit on one another. Not a perfect book though. I felt the ending was lacking in substance. Also, it would have helped to know more about how the protagonist overcame his childhood nightmare at various stages of adulthood.
Sep 30, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
In his novel, Kaan writes about a part of history uncommonly explored and he does so with poise and grace.  At its core, this is a story about survival.   The timeframe alternates between past and present with transitions feeling a little uneven at times.  I found myself always longing to return back to the adventures and life-changing experiences of Chung-Man’s youth.
Dorothy Mahoney
Jun 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
How 12 year old Chung-Man, his older brother Leuk, sister Wei-Ming, his mother and older brothers survive the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong is brutally graphic and haunting.
The snakes in baskets in the basement and the water beetles climbing the sugar cane become
metaphorical in a story of being caged and escaping, often through the kindness of strangers.
Tricia Dower
Jun 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Wonderful book, beautifully written, about a terrible time in history. I loved the perspective of an old man looking back on his childhood in Hong Kong during the Japanese occupation during WWII. Knowing he survived made the reading bearable.
Mar 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Superb. I could barely put this book down. A sensitive, personal recount of the tragedies and horrors of war...this time the Japanese against the Chinese, starting in Hong Kong. As always, good literature reveals the person behind the face and warms the heart.
Jan 31, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: abandoned
I tried THREE TIMES to get into this book. For all the praise Kaan's "elegant restraint" I found his style so restrained that I felt like I was experiencing the narrative through the wall of my apartment, and not in a cool way. I just couldn't care!
Larry Verstraete
Jan 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: adult-fiction
This book engaged me from beginning to end. Kahn seamlessly weaves historical facts into the fabric of his fictional story of wartime conflict in Hong Kong. I learned so much about this period that I didn't know before, and I loved the characters Kahn introduces.
Valerie Mills-Milde
Oct 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Vivid, spare depictions of war from a child's point of view. This is a writer who is grounded in the senses. An impressive debut.
Elaine Conte
Nov 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
A good read about the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong during WW2.
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