eyes.2c's Reviews > How We Disappeared

How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee
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really liked it
bookshelves: netgalley, world-war-11, china-fiction, contemporary-fiction

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 problem of reintegration was real for most of these women. The notion of someone from the younger generation, in this instance Kevin, discovering or questioning the life of an elder (parent, grandparent) is a frequently used trope. JIng-Jing Lee has used this method to advantage. Kevin becomes the agent for healing.
The story of Wang Di, taken from her village at gun point on the Singapore Peninsula by Japanese invaders and interred as a sex slave is atrocious. It was August 1942. Wang Di was seventeen, some were only girls of twelve.
The emotional and physical trauma Wang Di experienced played as a self destroying loop throughout her life. She was convinced that what she had become during the war was because she was, "as unworthy as [her] parents had always suggested. That [she] would have been better born as a boy."
What she really was, was a war crimes survivor, who had come out the other side of an horrific and inhumane experience. She was not the criminal!
I must say that I felt somewhat disconnected in the moving between the characters' perspectives. For me it was not a smooth interweaving.
Nevertheless for those interested, this is a very worthwhile read.
There is still conflict around Japanese apologies to Comfort Women, and this is now nearly 75 years after the end of the war. Many of the women survivors have died, in shame and poverty without family, without support, without restitution. There have been some apologies, but for many of the survivors that was not enough.
This declining battle (declining due to the current age of the women) is noted in the following press release from the South China Morning Post, August 17, 2017
"Huang Youliang, a former "comfort woman", died at the age of 90 on August 12. [2017] A total of 24 Chinese comfort women, including Huang, have attempted to sue the Japanese government in four cases since 1995, all have failed."
Work's like Jing-Jing Lee's are important to keep the issue alive.
I can't leave without mentioning the book's cover. It calls out to you! The girl almost disappears into the foliage, as though disappearing into a dream state, disappeared perhaps from a family's memory. And it begs the point, how does anyone survive what Wang Di was subjected to? As an aesthetic response to the story it's outstanding. As a starting point for reflective discussion it's more than interesting. The sublime blue-green colors bring to mind The Green Lady, by Vladimir Tretchikoff, overlaid with motifs reminiscent of Henri Rousseau. Nicely done!

A Hanover Square Press ARC via NetGalley
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Reading Progress

May 5, 2019 – Started Reading
May 6, 2019 – Finished Reading
May 9, 2019 – Shelved
May 9, 2019 – Shelved as: netgalley
May 9, 2019 – Shelved as: world-war-11
May 9, 2019 – Shelved as: china-fiction
May 9, 2019 – Shelved as: contemporary-fiction

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