An elderly woman is haunted by her past as a "comfort woman," while many people would prefer to cover up their family member’s tragic history.
This novel set in Singapore grapples with a history that many in the city-state would rather leave forgotten. The story is told from alternating points of view, that of an elderly woman, Wang Di, facing the imminent death of her beloved husband; the teenage Wang Di and her family, struggling to survive the Japanese occupation during World War II; and Kevin, a precocious 12-year-old schoolboy facing bullying in the 21st century. Wang Di's narrative as a young woman is the most compelling, as the reader learns that the Japanese military kidnapped her as a teenager to work as a "comfort woman" providing sex for Japanese soldiers. Not only did Wang Di face the threat of death should she not comply while enslaved by the Japanese military, but she faced censure from the rest of society after the war ended. These themes of silencing a tragic history run through Kevin's chapters as well, as the intrepid boy seeks to uncover his grandmother's secrets. However, Kevin's chapters do not match Wang Di's in power, and the constant shifting of perspective can be distracting. The novel has many graphic scenes of violence and rape, but they are never gratuitous. Ultimately, debut novelist Lee creates a compelling story of generations haunted by war and the silence surrounding their suffering.
A historical novel about "comfort women" in Singapore restores the dignity of the survivors and criticizes the misogyny that marked their lives.