Thursday, August 1, 2019

"Searching for Sylvie Lee"

Jean Kwok is the award-winning, New York Times and international bestselling author of Searching for Sylvie Lee, Girl in Translation and Mambo in Chinatown. Her work has been published in twenty countries and taught in universities, colleges and high schools across the world. An instant New York Times bestseller, Searching for Sylvie Lee was selected by Jenna Bush Hager for the Today Show Book Club, Emma Roberts for the Belletrist Book Club, O, The Oprah Magazine for its summer reading list and called “this summer’s book club sensation” by Entertainment Weekly.

Kwok applied the Page 69 Test to Searching for Sylvie Lee and reported the following:
From page 69:
The room simmered with flickering shadows. The lights were off to conserve electricity, as was the case in most Dutch homes. The heat was set low as well—Thick sweater day: why not wear one, it is better for the environment and your energy bill. My feet knew where to slip off and leave my shoes. My arms recalled the coat hangers that jangled against each other. My hand reached for the light switch half-hidden behind the old Vermeer print on the wall without a thought, even though I no longer had to go on tiptoe.

How I had dreaded the mornings, the time Helena and Willem were home before leaving for the restaurant and returning late in the night. The afternoons and evenings had been lovely, only me and Lukas and Grandma, eating our simple meals of fresh rice in the lamplight instead of the rich restaurant fare Willem and Helena brought back. Most days, I was in bed before they came home. I made sure of it.

But there had been good times with Helena too. Days when she took me shopping for dresses, bought me colored elastics for my hair. One winter, the Vecht River had frozen over. I was amazed to find it packed with people I recognized as neighbors. I hugged the shore, expecting the ice to crack and swallow everyone whole. It was one of my nightmares, to be trapped underneath the surface of the water. But earlier that morning, Helena had rooted around in the garage until she found pairs of skates for Willem, Lukas, me, and herself.
In some ways, this page 69 from Searching for Sylvie Lee is quite reflective of the novel because it’s told in Sylvie’s voice as she returns to the Dutch house where she grew up. Chinese American Sylvie had been sent as a baby to her Grandma, who had already emigrated from China to the Netherlands with their cousins Helena and Willem and their child Lukas, because Sylvie’s working class parents couldn’t afford to take care of her.

When the novel opens, we quickly find out that Sylvie has returned to the Netherlands to see Grandma, who is very ill, and that Sylvie has disappeared. Sylvie’s younger sister Amy, who has always been in the brilliant Sylvie’s shadow, has to pull herself together to try to find out what happened to Sylvie. As Amy flies to the Netherlands to find clues, we also hear Sylvie’s voice backdated by a month, so we can also see Sylvie’s experiences for ourselves.

This page shows the conflicted feelings Sylvie has as she returns to the house where her cousin Helena had been unkind to her as a child and the reader wonders what, if anything, Helena had to do with Sylvie’s disappearance.
Visit Jean Kwok's website.

--Marshal Zeringue