Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “How We Disappeared: A Novel” as Want to Read:
How We Disappeared: A Novel
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

How We Disappeared: A Novel

4.16  ·  Rating details ·  361 ratings  ·  130 reviews
*A Library Journal “Emerging Stars” Pick*

A mesmerizing novel of World War II Singapore, “a story about memory, trauma, and ultimately love” (New York Times)—for fans of
Pachinko and We Were the Lucky Ones

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 vi
Kindle Edition, 352 pages
Published May 7th 2019 by Hanover Square Press
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about How We Disappeared, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
This question contains spoilers… (view spoiler)
Fiona I was really confused by this and I can usually follow the plot.

I don't think we got to find out what happened to her baby - I think we were given…more
I was really confused by this and I can usually follow the plot.

I don't think we got to find out what happened to her baby - I think we were given three choices and we had to go with what we thought happened to him.(less)
This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
4.16  · 
Rating details
 ·  361 ratings  ·  130 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Angela M
May 28, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

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
Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader
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
"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
Jun 09, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: singapore, 2019-read
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 woven a net of stories about a family that experiences
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. B
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 ☆
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

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
Cora Tea Party Princess
Review to come, but this book broke my heart over and over.
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
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
Jan 25, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jenna Bookish
May 14, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
Jun 27, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Japan’s occupation of Singapore and the atrocities committed during those 3+ years are the catalyst for the stories in this heartbreaking novel. While I have read more than my fair share of WWII era novels, I didn’t know about the existence of “comfort women” who were raped 20-30 times per day for years on end. It’s horrific but Jing-Jing Lee handles the storytelling gently, letting the story out slowly from multiple directions; it’s a smart trick to deal with such brutal material.

She also tells
Jun 04, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Set in Singapore during Japan's invasion of Malaysia, 'How We Disappeared' is the story of a woman who lost her identity during the war and a man who lost most of his family. Their strange marriage was one where talks on war were forbidden. But it wasn't exactly their fault, it was all in the memories.

16-year-old Wand Di had a restricted childhood. She was forced to stay home and help her mother with the chores. But her worst nightmare started when she is forced into sexual slavery in a brother.
Stacie C
Apr 27, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 02, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Full review here
Blodeuedd Finland
I just can not! It is so dull. It should not have started with the old woman
And now it is about some modern kid?!
Ugh, no
Jennifer (JC-S)
‘He knew what the unsaid did to people. Ate away at them from the inside.’

Singapore, 1942. The Japanese troops sweep all before them as they move through Malaysia and into Singapore. In one village, only two people and a tiny child survive. In a nearby village, seventeen-year-old Wang Di is taken from her village to a Japanese military brothel, where she is forced into sexual slavery. Wang Di becomes one of the ‘comfort women’.

Later, Wang Di marries. Her husband, affectionately known as ‘The Ol
Anna Baillie-Karas
A beautiful, moving novel, set in Singapore. The story of Wang Di, a sex slave during WW2, and Kevin, who is is solving a mystery about his grandmother. I loved the clean writing - the images are so clear, characters finely drawn. Shows the plight of ‘comfort women’ and the long-lasting effects of WW2 traumas. It’s well-paced: there’s action and suspense, but Lee gives her characters room to breathe. They’re outsiders but resilient; they break your heart.

It also raises the question of silence a
May 21, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I find it difficult to write about this book. A jumble of powerful feelings rises up. The story itself is wrenching and the sections depicting the girl’s experiences as a sex slave to Japanese soldiers during WWII are particularly harrowing.

However and importantly, the beauty of the writing and its intimate tone/”feel” make the reading all the more affecting and haunting. I felt as if I almost became her, especially during the most traumatic periods. I saw through her eyes. Other times, she was
Stephanie Jane (Literary Flits)
See more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits

As I started to read How We Disappeared, I felt that it was fortuitously connected to my last Asian novel, The Garden of Evening Mists. That post-war Malaysian story included passing references to the ianfu (comfort women) and How We Disappeared is a fictionalised, but well researched, account from one such woman, Wang Di. To be honest, this is a horrific story. Not the novel itself, of course. Lee's delicate yet powerful prose style is perfe
Apr 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

I think Jing-Jing Lee made a brave decision to tell the stories of ethnic Chinese who lived in Singapore during the Japanese occupation,with a large focus on ‘comfort women’. How We Disappeared broke my heart, I won’t lie.

Unlike a number of heartbreaking books I’ve read this year, its blurb laid out, briefly, what I was getting into but even that wasn’t enough to stop the triggers 😭. I think the fact that I never knew it really happened contributed to it. So if you’re easily triggered, by any fo
Jul 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: adlww2019
4.5 Stars

This historical fiction fills a silence that has been wrought by time and cultural shame, describing the war experiences of women and men during the Japanese occupation.

Primarily the story belongs to Wang Di, a woman who was taken from her family home in 1942 to become a ‘comfort woman’ for the Japanese soldiers. The brutality that she endures is not for the faint-hearted, but the writing beautifully navigates the reader through the horrors without shying away from them. The author all
May 16, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: didnt-finish
This story had a lot of familiar story beats. It also had 2 point of view characters. And it went back and forth between WWII and more or less today. So, all of those things are not uncommon. The book failed to set itself apart for me.

The First viewpoint is that of Wang Di. At the start of the book, she is mourning her dead husband, who wanted to know her past but was patient with her when she didn't want to talk. Now he's dead, and she's sorry she didn't share more. So you know the book is goin
Apr 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book will tug at your heart, it will be difficult to read, your heart will actually break, but you will continue until the end because it is so important to read about how people have been treated throughout history. How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee will be released May 7th, make sure to put it on your to be read list. How We Disappeared takes place during 1942-1945 when the Japanese invade Singapore. It is about how the Japanese took in comfort women and the torture and abuse one partic ...more
Julia Tutt
This was a great story that just wasn't executed well. It's 3 stars for the story and characters, but it lost two stars due to it's inability to really land those two things perfectly. The ending wasn't satisfactory, the hints weren't clear, and it just didn't hit home.
« previous 1 3 4 5 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • A Bend in the Stars
  • The Lieutenant's Nurse
  • Savage News
  • Home Remedies
  • We All Fall Down
  • The Unpassing
  • Soon the Light Will Be Perfect
  • Missing Daughter
  • Midnight at the Wandering Vineyard
  • The Voice in My Head
  • One Summer in Paris
  • The Woman in the Lake
  • Willa & Hesper
  • The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick
  • The Last Stone
  • African Samurai: The True Story of a Legendary Black Warrior in Feudal Japan
  • The Perfect Alibi (Robin Lockwood #2)
  • The Summer Cottage
See similar books…
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