SEARCHING FOR SYLVIE LEE by Jean Kwok

SEARCHING FOR SYLVIE LEE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A Chinese family spanning the U.S. and the Netherlands grapples with the disappearance of one of their own.

Twenty-six-year-old Amy Lee is living in her parents’ cramped Queens apartment when she gets a frantic call from Lukas Tan, the Dutch second cousin she’s never met. Her successful older sister, Sylvie, who had flown to the Netherlands to see their ailing grandmother, is missing. Amy’s questions only mount as she looks into Sylvie’s disappearance. Why does Sylvie’s husband, Jim, look so bedraggled when Amy tracks him down, and why are all his belongings missing from the Brooklyn Heights apartment he and Sylvie share? Why is Sylvie no longer employed by her high-powered consulting firm? And when Amy finally musters up the courage to travel to the Netherlands for the first time, why do her relatives—the Tan family, including Lukas and his parents, Helena and Willem—act so strangely whenever Sylvie is brought up? Amy’s search is interlaced with chapters from Sylvie’s point of view from a month earlier as she returns to the Netherlands, where she had been sent as a baby by parents who couldn't afford to keep her, to be raised by the Tans. As Amy navigates fraught police visits and her own rising fears, she gradually uncovers the family’s deepest secrets, some of them decades old. Though the novel is rife with romantic entanglements and revelations that wouldn’t be amiss in a soap opera, its emotional core is the bond between the Lee sisters, one of mutual devotion and a tinge of envy. Their intertwined relationship is mirrored in the novel’s structure—their alternating chapters, separated in time and space, echo each other. Both ride the same bike through the Tans’ village, both encounter the same dashing cellist. Kwok (Mambo in Chinatown, 2014, etc.), who lives in the Netherlands, is eloquent on the clumsy, overt racism Chinese people face there: “Sometimes I think that because we Dutch believe we are so emancipated, we become blind to the faults in ourselves,” one of her characters says. But the book is a meditation not just on racism, but on (not) belonging: “When you were different,” Sylvie thinks, “who knew if it was because of a lack of social graces or the language barrier or your skin color?”

A frank look at the complexities of family, race and culture.

Pub Date: June 4th, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-06-283430-0
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2019




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