Oneworld Publications | May 2019 | 352 pgs
February 8th 1942 marked the start of the Battle of Singapore and ended on the 15th when the British officially surrendered Singapore to the Japanese forces. Despite the stiff resistance from Allied troops, the island eventually fell in the hands of the Japanese Imperial Army and for 3 years and 7 months, Singapore was known as "Syonan-To" during the Japanese Occupation.
In this novel, author Jing-Jing Lee blends fiction and history about the connection between a courageous woman who survived the Japanese Occupation and a 12-year-old boy who's stumbled on a secret which may change his and someone else's life altogether.
17-year-old Wang Di lives with her family in a neighbouring village. As the eldest, she helps her mother by selling vegetables and eggs at their village, forsaking her education not only they are poor but also they believe that boys should have a better education instead. When the news broke that the Japanese have marched into Singapore, everyone tries to keep a low profile until one day a troop come across the village where Wang Di is and tear everything apart. During the struggle, Wang Di, as well as a few girls, are forced into their troop carrier and drive off to military brothels where they are to become "comfort women". In a more harshly term, they are forced into sexual slavery.
Forward to year 2000, 12-year-old Kevin hears a confession from his grandmother which isn't meant for him by her deathbed. Her mumbled confession then led Kevin into finding the truth which happened so many years ago. And what he later found out will not only uncover the mystery behind his late grandmother's message but also the grief-stricken life story of a man and wife during the Japanese Occupation.
This book was not an easy read as it not only reminds me of the sad and horrific past set in my homeland but also how horrible it was for the "comfort women" to remain silent during that era. It also sadden me to read about the guilt and the shame they felt even though they'd done nothing wrong under that circumstances. That said, I felt their voices deserve to be heard and what they'd gone through will never be forgotten.
Onto the story, I felt the author has done a great job in weaving the two timelines together and bringing the two main narrators to life. I enjoyed reading both Wang Di's and Kevin's perspective and they have their own traits which are admirable; Wang Di for her perseverance and endurance during the difficult times and Kevin for his determination in searching the truth. I found myself invested in their stories the more I turned the pages. I don't want to say more about the premise but I can tell you that this is a beautifully written story filled with heartbreak and hope and I turned the last page with a lump in my throat.
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