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Friday, April 5, 2024



“The Storm We Made" is a powerful book, and one that is compelling, both on the political and the personal level. (Review by Margaret von Klemperer, courtesy of The Witness)

The Storm We Made is Vanessa Chan’s debut novel, and draws on her own Malaysian background and the stories her family told. 

The book is set partly in the 1930s when the then Malaya was a British colony, and partly during the Second World War, when the country was under brutal Japanese occupation.

The main characters are the Eurasian Alcantara family, particularly Cecily and her three children, Jujube, Abel and Jasmin. 

Before the war Cecily is bored, discontented and always looking for something more fulfilling. 

She despises her husband Gordon’s obsequiousness to his British bosses, and when she meets Japanese General Fujiwara and he talks to her about his dreams of “Asia for the Asians,” with Malaya under Japanese control, she is captivated as well as physically attracted, and agrees to spy for him.

Fujiwara is masquerading as a Hong Kong businessman, and only Cecily knows his true background. Her double life is thrilling for her, and ultimately damaging for her country and her family.

The story is told in alternating chapters, ranging among Cecily and the three children, their stories those of wartime. 

Early in the novel, we discover that Abel, like many young Malayan men and boys, has been taken by the Japanese to work on the notorious Burma Railway, where the treatment meted out to him is horrific. And when he is gone, his mother begins to realise the consequences of her earlier actions. But there is no going back. What is done is done, and she must face the consequences. And as the war drags on, and the occupation becomes ever more horrible, so those consequences multiply. What Cecily has done will resonate for ever.

The colonising British and the occupying Japanese are both shown, in different ways, to have no real care for the local population. And ultimately, that leads to an attitude of everyone for him or herself. But Cecily’s motivation for what she does, however she dresses it up for her own comfort, is purely her own gratification. The most appealing character is Jujube, who has an inner strength which will ensure her survival, and perhaps at the end a measure of peace.

The Storm We Made is a powerful book, and one that is compelling, both on the political and the personal level. This makes up for moments of clumsy writing, such as when Chan writes that “thunder typically followed the lightning” which is hardly surprising. But overall, this is an impressive debut. - Margaret von Klemperer

The Storm We Made is published by Hodder & Stoughton - ISBN 978-1-399-71258-3