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How We Disappeared

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  3,027 ratings  ·  509 reviews
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 s
Hardcover, 350 pages
Published May 7th 2019 by Hanover Square Press (first published April 3rd 2019)
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Angela M
May 28, 2019 rated it really liked it

They were called “comfort women”, a soft description meant to make what was done by the Japanese soldiers to these young girls and women from Korea and this case Singapore, to make it sound less threatening, less horrific. But what they endured was horrific - the rapes and sexual abuse, slavery, locked in rooms, given little food. This is another story that’s difficult to read, but an important one as a theme of the novel reflects - the stories must be told. I didn’t really know anything about w
Elyse  Walters
Apr 02, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book cover is gorgeous.....
Yet the history was brutal.
The Japanese occupation in Singapore in WWII took place from 1942 to 1945.
The history often is forgotten - and some prefer it that way. Especially the Japanese government.
The Japanese Military was horrendous and shameless.
Most Americans are educated about Pearl Harbor - yet are less familiar with the horrors of what the Japanese military did - and to the extent that women suffered.

What really got to me was the ‘shame’ the women and
Emer (A Little Haze)
How We Disappeared is a historical fiction novel that tells the story of what happened to one woman in particular during the Asia-Pacific part of WWII.

It follows seventeen year old Wang Di who is ripped from her family and forced into sex slavery to become what was crudely referred to as a comfort woman.

The book splits the narrative between life for Wang Di during her captivity and life for her sixty years later as an old woman who is dealing with the ghosts of both hers and her recently decea
Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader
May 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
How We Disappeared has two timelines. The first is set during World War II, and the location is Singapore. Japanese troops have been marching through Malaysia. One village is almost completely wiped out; only three survive the attack.

In a nearby village, Wang Di is captured and sent to a Japanese military brothel where she is a “comfort woman.”

The second timeline is in the year 2000. Young Kevin’s grandmother is sick, and she confesses something to him. It causes him to seek the truth, whateve
Jun 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
"There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you." (Maya Angelou)

In the creative hands of Jing-Jing Lee, the rawness and the brutality of the war years in Singapore become a reality for all of us. Once occupied by the British, Singapore became a land seemingly passed from hand to hand always waiting for the boots of strangers to fill the room with echoes of uncertainty.

It's 1942 and the British have abandoned the land to the crushing threats of the Japanese. Village after villa
Hannah Greendale
First read from the 2020 Women's Prize for Fiction longlist.

How We Disappeared is historical fiction that purports to explore the life of a young woman forced to work in a military brothel during the Japanese occupation of Singapore during WW II. Over a hundred pages pass before the protagonist, Wang Di, arrives at the brothel, and too few of the pages that follow are dedicated to recounting her experience. Lee often glosses over or impassively summarizes the more horrific aspects of the life of
Jun 09, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: singapore, 2019-read
Now Nominated for the Women's Prize for Fiction 2020
This sprawling epic talks about the Japanese occupation of Singapore during WW II and its repercussions which affect families until this day. I applaud Jing-Jing Lee for illustrating that history is never really over and how important it is to be able to tell one's own story in order to see oneself and to feel seen: To share and discuss what has happened in the past can free individual people, families and whole societies.

Jing-Jing Lee has wov
Mar 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
Set in Singapore, How We Disappeared centers on Wang Di, an elderly woman who survived Japanese occupation during WWII by being forced into serving as a comfort woman.  We follow her present-day narrative as well as seeing flashbacks to the war, which comprise the bulk of this novel.  Meanwhile we also follow Kevin, a teenage boy whose grandmother has just made a shocking confession on her death bed, which propels Kevin to dig into his family history.

I found this to be an occasionally frustratin
Mar 18, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Longlisted for the 2020 Women's Prize for Fiction.

Wang Di is a disappointment to her parents. Why? Because she was born a girl instead of a boy. The name her parents gave here “Wang” meaning hope and “Di” meaning boy, a constant reminder of this disappointment every time somebody calls her name.

Kevin is only twelve, well nearly thirteen and he is going blind. At the opticians he can’t even read the first letter on the chart. He has taken to making recordings of things since he knows his sight is
May 28, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: release-2019
This beautiful heart-breaking debut is multi-narrated around two timelines and centers around Japan’s atrocities during their occupation of Singapore during WWll, and modern day when a 12yr old learns of his grandmother’s hidden secret.
Artfully crafted and utterly gripping.. this novel evokes the strong resilience women needed to survive during those horrific times. Has difficult subjects and is not for the faint at heart. 4 ☆
Jerrie (redwritinghood)
This was a traumatic story about a woman who was abducted during the Japanese occupation of Singapore in WWII for service as a “comfort woman”. A lot of the details of the families trying to survive during the occupation was sad and horrific, but the second, present day timeline seemed unnecessary to the story and just didn’t appeal to me in the end.
Gumble's Yard
This not-knowing when it came to my parents; things I’d never thought about, even if they were clear as day, clear as the fact that my parents had their own parents, had their own childhoods and histories. And then one day you open a drawer and out come all the secrets that have just been sitting quietly, waiting to be found, even though you never thought about them, never suspected they existed in the first place.

I read this book due to its longlisting for the 2020 Women’s Prize.

I timed my
Roman Clodia
Feb 20, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Who's going to listen?" I repeated. [...]
"Don't tell anyone. Not me or your father or any of the neighbours. Especially not your future husband."

An important book that is hard reading at times as we learn the story of one woman's life as a 'comfort woman' to the Japanese Army in Singapore during WW2.

I have to say that I found this uneven in places: I loved the heart of the book, Wang Di's cathartic narrative as she finally allows herself to tell the story of her captivity and experiences.
Laurie • The Baking Bookworm
Readers will immediately notice the beautiful cover of this Historical Fiction novel that looks at WWII from a different vantage point - the Japanese occupation of Singapore between 1942 and 1945.

The story has dual time lines and is told with two perspectives. Wang Di is a teenage girl from a small town who is abducted during the war and sold into sexual slavery to become a 'comfort woman' to the Japanese army. The second perspective is from Kevin, a 12-year-old boy who tries to piece together
May 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: giveaways
The real deal.

This book was unsurprisingly difficult to read, but worth it. My heart broke so much for Wang Di, and the real women on whom her character is based. The trauma she endures appears to me to be depicted faithfully in the novel, neither sanitized nor sensationalized, and the lasting impact of this time in her life courses through every page. Her relationship with her late husband, affectionately called The Old One, was a precious thing, and I loved and ached as she reminisced over the
Katie Long
Apr 14, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Historical fiction set during Japan's occupation of Singapore during WWII. This book exposed my ignorance of an entire half of that war, since all the historical fiction, and indeed most of the history, I have read has focused on the experience of Europeans and Americans. It was eye opening and wrenching, but, like any good WWII fiction, always makes room for love and humanity even in the most dire circumstances.
Nenia ✨️ Socially Awkward Trash Panda ✨️ Campbell

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Reading this book was so incredibly frustrating because it sounded really good, but while reading it I was alternately depressed and bored. HOW WE DISAPPEARED has two alternating timelines. One is told in the 2000s by a preteen boy named Kevin, whose grandmother gives him a jarring and frightening deathbed confession that sends him on a quest to discover some of the dark secrets harbored by his family. The other is told during the 1940s
Fiona Mitchell
Sep 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A shattering, tender and absorbing novel that centres around the unfathomable cruelty that women in Singapore endured when they were snatched by the Japanese Army and forced into sexual slavery during World War Two. It was harrowing to read of Wang Di’s incarceration as a ‘comfort woman’ - far too benign a description for the barbarism that she and thousands of women endured across the occupied territories - yet what rings out from the book is human resilience and our capacity to love no matter ...more
Cora Tea Party Princess
Review to come, but this book broke my heart over and over.
Ieva Andriuskeviciene
Longlisted for the Woman prize for fiction 2020
Interesting and very unknown historical but my cold heart felt untouched at all.
It was OK, but not great. Two timelines, past and present. Singapore occupied by Japan, girl taken to military brothel, abandoned baby and an old lady now on her death bed telling her secrets to her grandson.
It ticks all bestseller points but overall just a story we read in other books only with different setup
Comfort women, one story!

I have read quite a few novels and attended at least one heart wrenching play over the past few years about Comfort Women. Basically women taken and forced to be sex slaves in brothels set up by the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II to service their occupation troops. These women were treated as little more than animals. Their circumstances, their treatment and their violation was horrific. Disease and brutality with no quarter given marched hand in hand.
The pr

Visit the locations in the novel

Singapore, 1942. As Japanese troops sweep down Malaysia and into Singapore, a village is ransacked, leaving only two survivors and one tiny child.

An emotional and heartbreaking read set during the Japanese occupation. It’s the story of a woman who survived the most horrific circumstances yet survived. Woven around this story is the tale of her husband and the horrors he also went through at the hands of the Japanese.

A heartbreaking and powerful read. Did I mentio
John Banks
Jul 25, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
How We Disappeared is a fine novel, I especially value the quiet even restrained dignity that Jing-Jing Lee brings to painful subjects and how she sensitively represents characters who manage to do this for each other by creating gentle, caring and respectful space to hold such painful, traumatic experiences and memories.

The narrative moves between Second World War occupied Singapore and 2000 Singapore. Commencing in a third-person account of Wang Di (an elderly Chinese Singaporean woman) as she
May 27, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, arc
Oh, good grief, prepare yourself for this one…

In 1942, Japanese soldiers ransack villages in Singapore, killing men, and kidnapping women and young girls so they can become sexual slaves. Wang Di is taken from her family when she’s only sixteen years old and, for the next three years, is forced to have sex with 40+ soldiers a day. Eventually she makes it out—but, of course, she can never forget.

Years later, a twelve-year old boy named Kevin is trying to figure out what happened to his grandmothe
Kaffeeklatsch and Books
This book is with rights compared to Min Jin Lee's "Pachinko".
It's beautiful and heart-breaking at the same time. Our main characters go through so incredibly much abuse and sorrow and never really open up to each other what happened during the war and Japanese occupation.
I can recommend this to lovers of Min Jin Lee's novels or if you enjoyed the Night Tiger or the Geisha.
Jonathan Pool

The story develops in two separate narratives that eventually merge into one. Its no surprise to the reader when this happens, and the point of the book is not really to throw up unexpected twists. Wang-Di is a Singaporian “comfort” worker, abducted by the Japanese when Singapore is overrun by the Japanese (the “ruben guizi” or Japanese devils) in World War Two. The British (or “ang mo”) depart. Wang Di suffers prolonged brutality at the hands of Japanase soldiers, and she is not alone i
Jun 03, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Imi by: 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist
I could be a ghost, I thought. One of those lingering souls that people just live with and skirt around, as long as it doesn't do them any harm.
"Comfort women." What an appalling, downright offensive way to describe what these women were put through during the Japanese occupation of Singapore in WWII. This book is brutal, endlessly sad, but Jing-Jing Lee handles both the horror and terror of the events, as well as the aftermath, very well indeed. Wang Di lives her life in silence, numbed by
Marija (Inside My Library Mind)
More reviews up on my blog Inside My Library Mind

Who would have thought that one of the only books that I like on the longlist would be the WWII historical? NOT ME, but I really liked this one.

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Jenna Bookish
May 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
My thanks to Hanover Square Press and NetGalley for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and are not influenced by the publisher. 

How We Disappeared is a beautiful, heartbreaking historical fiction novel with an element of mystery. There are several different story lines woven together with different point-of-view characters, but the strongest part of the novel while, also perhaps being the most difficult to read, was Wang Di's experience. Wang
Stacie C
Apr 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019
This is a story about family. It’s a story about war. It’s a story about surviving. A story about living after loss. It’s a story of healing and a story about the passing of time. It’s a story of teenage girl taken from her family during World War II and forced to live for years in a brothel as a comfort woman. It’s the story of a women married to a man for decades, who both suffering from the pains of war, never really knew each other or shared their past. It’s the story of a boy whose grandmot ...more
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Jing-Jing Lee is the author of HOW WE DISAPPEARED (Oneworld and Hanover Square Press, May 2019). Born and raised in Singapore, she graduated from Oxford’s Creative Writing Master’s in 2011 and has since seen her poetry and short stories published in various journals and anthologies. Lee's novella, If I Could Tell You, was published by Marshall Cavendish in 2013 and her debut poetry collection, And ...more

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“And then, after the horror during what was supposed to be her best years, how her mother's words, the shame foisted on her by herself, her family, and everyone around her, had dictated the silence that shadowed her every move after the war.” 2 likes
“Sometimes all you had to do to get someone to talk was to be silent” 2 likes
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