This was a really interesting and difficult book to read. I went to the reviews afterwards to see if anyone else had the same thoughts and there are definitely similar.
The story is told from the points of view of Amy (in the present), her sister, Sylvie (in the past), and their Mother – also in the present. It’s set mainly in The Netherlands as Amy goes to the country to find her sister who was supposed to have returned home to the USA, but didn’t. Jean Kwok has tried hard to give each character a voice. Amy and Sylvie’s Mother known as Ma – is in the USA, waiting for news of her daughter. She talks mainly in Proverbs and it’s incredibly annoying – but I can see why the author has written her this way – to highlight her lack of English language and bring her Chinese voice to the foreground. Nevertheless, there could have been a few less proverbs and saying’s that’s for sure.
In The Netherlands, the characters who speak Dutch also speak in their translated way – which again is interesting but possibly not necessary. It makes for very disjointed English between Sylvie who speaks fluently, Ma who speaks it hardly at all, and the other characters who pepper their speech with Dutch translations. I’m torn between being in awe of Kwok’s skill, and also frustrated.
I would say that the book really picks up speed about a third of the way through, until then I was dipping in and out of it along with other books and wasn’t really invested in getting to the end. Once the pace changes and secrets unravel it becomes more interesting. There is strong exploration of family, heritage, values, respect and traditions. The author explores racism, family secrets and the underlying mystery carefully.
About the book…
It begins with a mystery. Sylvie, the beautiful, brilliant, successful older daughter of the Lee family, flies to the Netherlands for one final visit with her dying grandmother—and then vanishes.
Amy, the sheltered baby of the Lee family, is too young to remember a time when her parents were newly immigrated and too poor to keep Sylvie. Seven years older, Sylvie was raised by a distant relative in a faraway, foreign place, and didn’t rejoin her family in America until age nine. Timid and shy, Amy has always looked up to her sister, the fierce and fearless protector who showered her with unconditional love.
But what happened to Sylvie? Amy and her parents are distraught and desperate for answers. Sylvie has always looked out for them. Now, it’s Amy’s turn to help. Terrified yet determined, Amy retraces her sister’s movements, flying to the last place Sylvie was seen. But instead of simple answers, she discovers something much more valuable: the truth. Sylvie, the golden girl, kept painful secrets . . . secrets that will reveal more about Amy’s complicated family—and herself—than she ever could have imagined.
Publication: Hardback February 6th 2020 (Kindle already available)
About the author…
Jean immigrated from Hong Kong to Brooklyn when she was five and worked in a Chinatown clothing factory for much of her childhood while living in an unheated, roach-infested apartment. In between her undergraduate degree at Harvard and MFA in fiction at Columbia, she worked for three years as a professional ballroom dancer. Her beloved brother Kwan passed away in a tragic plane accident and was the inspiration behind Searching for Sylvie Lee. Jean is trilingual, fluent in Dutch, Chinese and English, and studied Latin for seven years. She lives in the Netherlands with her husband, two sons and four cats.
Connect with the Author…
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher and author for a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. Check out my blog for more book related posts and to enquire about future reviews, blog tours and cover reveals.