cover image The Storm We Made

The Storm We Made

Vanessa Chan. Simon & Schuster, $27 (352p) ISBN 978-1-66801-514-8

Chan debuts with a dynamic if overstuffed family saga involving a Malayan mother who becomes a spy for Japan in the lead-up to Japan’s WWII invasion of the territory. Cecily Alcantara’s life takes a new course in 1934, at a work party for her husband, Gordon, a middle manager for the colonial British administration. There, she meets the charming Shigeru Fujiwara, an agent for the Japanese Imperial Army who’s working covertly to overthrow the British. He lures Cecily with his talk of an Asia for Asians, and she begins handing over information stolen from Gordon’s desk. Her espionage activities continue for the next few years. Now, in 1945, Cecily looks back on the unexpected consequences of the Japanese invasion, such as political repression and rampant disappearances of teen boys. When her 15-year-old son Abel disappears, Cecily blames herself. Chan alternates Cecily’s story with chapters narrated by her children including Abel, who it turns out is being tortured in a labor camp. There’s also Jujube, who’s working in a teahouse patronized by rude soldiers, and eight-year-old Jasmin, who chafes at Cecily and Gordon’s insistence that she keep herself hidden in the basement so she won’t be caught and forced to become a “comfort girl.” Though the short chapters make for brisk pacing, the characters wind up feeling underdeveloped amid all the various plot threads. Still, Chan convincingly portrays a family caught in the horrors of war. (Jan.)