Tuesday 23 January 2024

The Storm We Made by Vanessa Chan #TheStormWeMade @vanjchan @HodderBooks #BookReview


British Malaya, 1930s

Discontented housewife Cecily is seduced by Japanese general Fujiwara and the glorious future he is promising for 'independent' Malaya, free from British colonialism. As she becomes further embedded as his own personal spy, she unwittingly alters the fate of her country by welcoming in a punishing form of dictatorship under the Japanese in WWII.

Japanese-occupied Malaya, 1945

Cecily and her family are barely surviving. Her children, Jujube, Abel and Jasmin, are surrounded by threat, and look to their mother to keep them safe. But she can't tell them about the part she played in the war - and she doesn't know how to protect them.

Can Cecily face up to her past to save her children? Or is it already too late... ?

The Storm We Made by Vanessa Chan was published by Hodder & Stoughton on 4 January 2024. My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy of the book.

A version of this review was originally published in S Magazine - Sunday 14 January 2024

The Storm We Made is an incredible debut from author Vanessa Chan. Vividly told through character voices that are realistic and compelling, this is a sweeping and richly layered story of hope, and betrayal.

1945 Malaya. Cecily Alcantara and her family are suffering at the hands of their Japanese rulers. Fifteen year old Abel has disappeared, and youngest daughter Jasmin is kept locked in the basement, away from those who would abduct her to work at the comfort stations. Jujube, the eldest daughter works at a tea house, enduring the hands and mouths of drunken Japanese soldiers. 

Cecily carries a huge burden, she knows that this is her fault. Ten years ago, she became infatuated with a Japanese soldier General Fuijwara and risked everything by becoming his spy. Stealing papers from her husband Gordon who worked for the British and helping to enable the Japanese to take power. She is desperate that her family must never find out. 

The reader hears from Cecily and her three children. We suffer the torture and humiliation of a captured Abel, we feel the anger of Jujube and we see the innocence of Jasmin as all three of them may their own way in what has become a brutal life for them all. 

It is difficult to warm to Cecily, but one can understand her motives for what she did, not only was she in love with Fuijwara, she really thought that getting rid of the British would bring about the dream of ‘Asia for Asians’. As she comes to terms with what she has done, and grieves for her lost son, there’s a sense of a desperate woman, but one who cannot face up to what she has done. 

A powerful and moving debut set in a country and time that I knew little about.

Beautiful and heartbreaking

VANESSA CHAN is a Malaysian author. 

Her debut novel, The Storm We Made, has been sold in twenty languages and territories worldwide, and was published in the US and UK in January 2024. 

Vanessa's other work has been published in Electric Lit, Kenyon Review, and more. 

She is now based mostly in Brooklyn.

Instagram @vanjchan

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