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Searching for Sylvie Lee

3.66  ·  Rating details ·  28,830 ratings  ·  3,149 reviews
A poignant and suspenseful drama that untangles the complicated ties binding three women—two sisters and their mother—in one Chinese immigrant family and explores what happens when the eldest daughter disappears, and a series of family secrets emerge, from the New York Times bestselling author of Girl in Translation

It begins with a mystery. Sylvie, the beautiful, brilliant
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published June 4th 2019 by William Morrow
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Rachel The author made each language have a distinct voice in the book and that was amazing. When characters were speaking in Chinese, you knew because the m…moreThe author made each language have a distinct voice in the book and that was amazing. When characters were speaking in Chinese, you knew because the metaphors and specific phrases were literally translated instead of giving an English equivalent. In Dutch it was the same but I don't know if someone would pick it up if you don't know Dutch. For example, when characters are speaking Dutch, they talk about people being "long" not "tall" and other idioms were used like when they said an angel was peeing on their tongue: that's a direct translation of the Dutch idiom. So there are times when Sylvie is narrating when you can tell she's switching between all three languages based on how the author has written the dialogue. Really fascinating and I've never seen an author do it this well. (less)
Margie I am sure the dialog was intended to represent the language skills of the characters. Ma thinks and mostly speaks Chinese, Sylvie lived her formative …moreI am sure the dialog was intended to represent the language skills of the characters. Ma thinks and mostly speaks Chinese, Sylvie lived her formative years speaking Dutch and Chinese, and Amy is a Chinese American. Along with the language "in translation," there are many references to Chinese folklore that are often left to the reader to unfold.(less)

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Jean Kwok
Oct 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  (Review from the author)
I'm so thankful for your interest in SEARCHING FOR SYLVIE LEE, which was an instant NYT bestseller and chosen as The Today Show Book Club Pick! Check out the recent NYT article (, plus there's an excerpt ( and a book club guide with discussion questions and recipes ( Thank you all so much for taking the time to read and rate. I hope very much that you like it and I am so grateful to you for being my readers. :) ...more
Diane S ☔
Jun 12, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: lor-2019
It is so hard to figure out why a book will resonate so greatly with some, and not others. This book is a case in point, it has garnered some terrific reviews, but there were some plot points that were for me, not realistic. A young Chinese woman disappears after returning to the Netherlands, when the grandmother that helped raise her, was dying. Although her parents lived in the United States, Sylvie herself lived in the Netherlands for her first nine years. Her younger sister, Amy, who thinks ...more
Nilufer Ozmekik
Jun 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: i-m-intrigued
Four full, surprising , heartbreaking ,mysterious ,twisty, tearful stars!

A real well written novel questions so many important issues from immigrant problems to partly racism, discrimination, from devoted love-hate sisterhood relationships to childhood crush, from inequality between men and women at work places to a husband’s betrayal and abuse!!!

It’s a real gripping story, told by two sisters and mother!

As soon as we read mother’s part, we realize that their own daughter’s have no idea about
Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok is a 2019 William Morrow publication.

A poignant family saga highlighting cultural, gender, and generational divides.

About Sylvie:

Sylvie is a thirty-three-year old woman of Chinese descent, who up until she was nine years old, lived in the Netherlands with her extended family- which included her maternal grandmother, her mother’s cousin, Helena, her husband, Willem Tan, and their son, Lukas. She is the daughter of ‘Ma and Pa’, the sister of Amy, the wife of
This was not what I expected.

I do not want to say what, exactly, was such an unpleasant turn of events that I felt the ripple effects of it through the following days if not weeks, for spoiler reasons.

But I will say that unless you have the most grotesque mind on the face of our humble planet, or you have been already told what goes down in these pages by a good samaritan and you have chosen to subject yourself to the unholy contents within anyway, there is no way you can predict the direction t
Diane Yannick
Jun 20, 2019 rated it it was ok
I was a big fan of Girl in Translation so I jumped right on this new novel by Jean Kwok. The first half (maybe even 2/3) was interesting and held forth much promise. Then something terrible happened. All I can figure is that a cheesy soap opera writer stole her manuscript and finished it. Even the language was gussied up and over the top. But worse yet was the plotting. No spoilers so I’ll just say that there were far too many coincidences and the “mystery” aspect of it was lame.
Larry H
Oct 09, 2019 rated it liked it
3.5 stars.

While its title suggests this book is a mystery, and certainly there is a mystery component, Jean Kwok's Searching for Sylvie Lee is also a study of family dynamics and an exploration of how secrets can destroy relationships.

Sylvie Lee is the daughter of Chinese immigrants. When she was very young, her parents were too poor to raise her in America, so they allowed her to be raised by cousins and her maternal grandmother in the Netherlands. Life wasn't easy there for Sylvie—an awkwa
Jun 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
I’m between 3.5 and 4 stars on this one so I’ll round up.

This was a compelling story about a Chinese immigrant family and the struggles they go through to create a life for themselves in a new country where, despite their best efforts, they never truly feel that they belong. Sylvie Lee is the beautiful and successful older daughter who was sent off to live with her grandmother and her cousin’s family in the Netherlands when she was only a few months old -- despite being reunited with her parent
Jennifer Blankfein
Jun 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I absolutely loved Searching for Sylvie Lee, the engrossing new fiction novel by Jean Kwok, the author of Girl in Translation. Not only is is written with great description of the Netherlands, NY and Venice, but the build up to an unsolved mystery is addictive and compelling. At the end of many of the chapters I had to catch my breath!

A perfect combination of literary fiction and suspense, in Searching for Sylvie Lee, Jean Kwok lets us inside the minds of Chinese immigrant sisters Sylvie, Amy a
Sylvie Lee is missing. She is Amy’s bright, beautiful and highly successful older sister who returned to Holland because their grandmother was gravely ill. See, Sylvie, along with her grandmother, was sent to live with her aunt and uncle, Helena & Willhem Tan, when she was a baby and rejoined her family in New York when she was nine and Amy was two. Her grandmother subsequently died and Sylvie was expected back home a week ago but no one seems to know where she is. Amy departs for Holland to try ...more
Dec 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I found Searching for Sylvie Lee an enthralling, thought-provoking and emotional read. This book combines gorgeous, literary prose with a powerfully suspenseful plot. As the characters navigate multiple languages and cultures, and the web of relationships that holds them together grows more complex, the novel's insights about family, culture, gender and love rise to the surface, surprising and delighting the reader.

The book begins as Amy discovers that something has gone terribly wrong with her
Jun 22, 2019 rated it it was ok
This book started out so promising, a beautifully written immigrant story playing out across two different continents with elements of a mystery/thriller woven in. Sadly, the shifting narratives and timelines grew tedious after awhile, and the “big reveal” felt like a cheap, and super predictable cop out. Once my suspicions about what happened to Sylvie were sadly confirmed correct, it was a real struggle to finish this book.

Sigh. Yet another promising novel that turned out to be a huge disappo
Anne Bogel
Jun 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
This much-anticipated novel from the author of Girl in Translation is part suspenseful mystery, part family drama, and inspired by a real-life tragedy in Kwok’s past.

The story begins when her family discovers Sylvie—the beautiful, confident golden child of the family—visits the Netherlands to see her dying grandmother, and then falls off the radar. As her family searches for her, we learn about their complicated past and Sylvie’s own upbringing as the daughter of Chinese immigrants, first in Ne
Jul 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Jean delivers us a poignant, compelling story, the whole journey throughout the book will give you goosebumps and in these hot days this is a perfect read!
Searching For Sylvie Lee is really an emotional and thought-provoking novel merged with such mindful topics like immigration, family mysteries, and dark sides of the characters!
The characters in the book have a very professional structure build in a perfect way by Kwok and that was very intriguing to read, Sylvie is a very clever girl, popula
Jessica Woodbury
I love a domestic drama and I love a multi-perspective one even more. Until the last third or so this was very much right in my wheelhouse. I suspect the things that dropped it down a star for me may not matter that much to other readers. (Or maybe they'll matter even more! Who's to say?)

I particularly enjoy a domestic drama that takes me to a new place with interesting characters. This book definitely delivered. The Lee family is more complicated than you'd expect. While in some ways they are
♛ may
im in between a 3.5 and 4 right now and i can't really explain why.

- this book did a lot of things and it did them well. to start, there's this very strong theme of family and heritage and immigration
- but that's just the beginning cause this book is loaded with secrets, betrayals, and tragedies that revolve around one family
- *give us the family dramaaaaaa*
- i LOVE reading stories that take place in unique settings & this takes place (mainly) in holland. the setting is described vividly and
Apr 12, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: librarything
Sylvie Lee is a successful, beautiful woman. Her younger sister, Amy, idolizes her. When news reaches them that their grandmother is dying in the Netherlands, Sylvie flies there to be with her. Sylvie grew up in the Netherlands. Her parents were too poor to take care of her when she was born and sent her to live with her grandmother and the Tan family. Sylvie didn’t return to the US and her parents until she was 9 years old. But now Sylvie has returned to the place she thinks of as home. But Amy ...more
Tucker  (TuckerTheReader)
Feb 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Tucker by: William Morrow

Many thanks to William Morrow for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review

The heart of another is a dark forest, always, no matter how close it has been to one's own. -Willa Cather

Searching For Sylvie Lee is more of a family drama than a thriller. While it did have its unsettling scenes, I felt that this novel went deeper into family and siblings than the mystery itself. Though it was, in my opinion, marketed incorrectly, it was still enjoyable.

Sylvie - Sylvie Lee is the p
lily ☁️
i have so many feelings, and nowhere to direct them.

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Leslie Ray
Jan 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
As I read this book, the quote by Sir Walter Scott, "Oh! What a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive", was all that kept coming to mind. Even though Sir Walter Scott had nothing to do with this story, the deceptions that come to light and their consequences, brought this famous quote to mind for me over and over.
Sylvie and Amy are sisters, separated by their parents in which Sylvie, the older sister is raised in the Netherlands, by relatives, while Amy grew up in New York City
A book that follows Amy Lee, a young Chinese woman who searches for her older sister Sylvie, who disappeared after returning to the Netherlands to care for the grandmother who raised for. I liked how Searching for Sylvie Lee captures the cost of immigration. The sections about what Sylvie’s parents, especially her mother, sacrificed and how that affected their relationship with Sylvie felt heart wrenching and true. The emotions of grief, longing, and mystery all resonated too, perhaps because Je ...more
Pam Jenoff
Jan 12, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I loved this story of Amy, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, who goes to the Netherlands on a quest to find out what happened to her older sister who disappeared. This book is both a page turner and a heart wrenching family story and you will love it.
May 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019
4 complicated family relationship stars

This complex book is chronicled by two sisters – Amy and Sylvie – and their mother. I hardly know how to start to explain this one. This Chinese immigrant family has ties to the Netherlands and New York. Sylvie was raised by her grandmother and other relatives in the Netherlands before she is reunited with her parents in New York at age 9. She never quite feels at home anywhere and has developed a beautiful successful persona that she hides behind. Her gran
The truth is, it is impossible to hide from yourself. Another truth: it is possible to find yourself anywhere.

this book hurt my heart.

the unravelling of amy lee, sylvie lee, and their mother begins with a trip. when sylvie receives word that their grandmother is dying in the netherlands, she flies back to visit the country that nurtured her for nine years.

except sylvie vanishes. without a word, without a trace.

it falls to sheltered, shy amy to retrace sylvie’s steps from new york city to a
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️💫 / 5 rounded up!

Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok was such a haunting and emotional read, and a book that I will be recommending to a lot of people.

What it's about: The daughters of Chinese immigrants, Amy and her older sister Sylvie couldn't be more different. Sylvie has always been the brilliant and beautiful one who can do anything, while Amy feels like a shadow with her stutter and less glamorous life with their parents. It doesn't help that Sylvie spent most of her childhood wi
Jun 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Kudos to Jenna Bush Hager for picking another winner! This book is beautifully written, I felt I knew each character well, there was definitely a connection. The setting is the Netherlands, and Jean Kwok’s description of the environment and culture gave me the experience of being there. The author does an excellent job of making you aware of some of the many problems immigrants face, I will think on this in the future! There are many twists and turns that kept me guessing, and kept me reading. I ...more
Carol (Bookaria)
Oct 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
This novel is part mystery, part family drama and revolves around the disappearance of Sylvie Lee, a young and successful attorney who flies back to the Netherlands to visit her dying grandmother. After a few days abroad, Sylvie's whereabouts are unknown which sends her sister on a search for her. 

The book explores family relationships, the immigration experience, identity, and is narrated from different points of view. Sylvie's parents are Chinese immigrants and the the fact that she grew up be
Apr 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
SEARCHING FOR SYLVIE LEE is a beautifully written novel that left me thinking of the problems facing immigrants or anyone who is trying to fit in. Told by two sisters and their mother, this book is about a heart breaking tragedy which occurs when family secrets are revealed. I highly recommend this book!
Jul 15, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2019
What an awkward book. Wildly inconsistent at parts, this novel recalls an ill-developed middle school story made painfully long. The “shocking” reveals feel ripped straight from “Everything I Never Told You” with a dash of “Flowers in the Attic.” The characters are erratic and unfleshed, wholly unbelievable page after page. The inclusion of Dutch and Chinese translations in the writing are jarring and do no favors to the storyline. When masterfully done (see: Amy Tan), it’s a pleasure, but when ...more
Marialyce (absltmom, yaya)
Adding another one to the dnf file. No connections being made at all.
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topics  posts  views  last activity   
Why does the author normalize cousin relations? 4 24 Feb 08, 2021 07:26PM  
Burbank Book Club: Jean Kwok interview 1 16 May 20, 2020 09:44AM  
Burbank Book Club: Part 3 6 21 May 18, 2020 10:27AM  
Burbank Book Club: Part 2 11 20 May 16, 2020 12:04PM  

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Jean Kwok is the New York Times and international bestselling, award-winning author of SEARCHING FOR SYLVIE LEE, GIRL IN TRANSLATION and MAMBO IN CHINATOWN. Her work has been published in twenty countries and taught in universities, colleges, and high schools across the world. An instant New York Times bestseller, SEARCHING FOR SYLVIE LEE was selected by Jenna Bush Hager for the Today Show Book Cl ...more

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