The Storm We Made

The Storm We Made

Written on 05/21/2024
Sonya VanderVeen Feddema

In introductory notes to her debut novel about her homeland, Vanessa Chan writes, “In Malaysia, our grandparents love us by not speaking. More specifically, they do not speak about their lives from 1941-1945, the period when the Japanese Imperial Army invaded Malaya (what Malaysia was called before independence), tossed the British colonizers out, and turned a quiet nation into one that was at war with itself.”

However, Chan eventually gleaned stories from her grandparents about the Japanese Occupation and based her suspenseful, perturbing, and thought-provoking fictional account of that time period on what she discovered.

In 1945, 40-year-old Cecily Alcantara realizes that for the past few years “she could not hide the distinct fear that controlled her existence; the knowledge that all the things she had done would come for her, that retribution was always a day away.”

As a Eurasian of Portuguese and Malayan descent, Cecily had been taught by her mother that they were “nearly white” like the British. Yet, years earlier, as Cecily had married and become the mother of two children, she always felt less-than the nation’s white colonizers, “unbearably discontent” with her place in society and the roles women were expected to play. In 1935, Cecily had formed an unlikely alliance with Bingley Chan, who eventually revealed his true identity as Fujiwara, a man affiliated with the Japanese Imperial Army and motivated by “his dream of an Asia for Asians, a world in which white men didn’t always win.”

When Fujiwara had lured Cecily into a life of espionage, she used her position as the wife of a civil servant who worked for the British to steal her husband’s documents and pass them on to Fujiwara. Though the “dichotomy” of Cecily’s life as a spy and a housewife had initially seemed thrilling, eventually when a choice she made led to the death of an innocent man, Cecily’s life slowly began to unravel.

Now in 1945, Cecily, her family, and the community in which they live are reeling under the Japanese oppressors. Cecily’s husband has been demoted to working a menial job, her 15-year-old son Abel is captured and sent to a Japanese-controlled labor camp, her 7-year-old daughter Jasmin runs away from home, and her oldest daughter Jujube, a waitress in a teahouse patronized by drunken, lecherous Japanese soldiers, is consumed with rage and terror at the disintegration of her family and country. Cecily, filled with guilt and fear, finally understands that her family, along with so many others, are paying “the cost of the lie of a new Asia,” the lie that she had believed and promoted, betraying her marriage, children, and country for a lost cause.

Told from the alternating perspectives of Cecily, Jujube, Abel, and Jasmin, The Storm We Made unflinchingly exposes the horrors of war, the evil degradation of the sex trade, the injustices perpetrated by colonizers, and the stifling nature of women’s roles in society. The book, which includes several disturbingly violent scenes that reflect the realities of war and some sexually explicit material, also highlights how each main character forms a surprising, unlikely friendship, offering hope and joy despite the tumultuous nature of the times.

Christians who engage with this novel might be reminded of the prophet Isaiah’s hopeful words about God’s justice and redeeming power: “He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore” (Isaiah 2:4). (Simon &Schuster)