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Searching for Sylvie Lee: A Novel by Jean…
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Searching for Sylvie Lee: A Novel (edition 2019)

by Jean Kwok (Author)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
5094937,753 (3.6)18
A READ WITH JENNA TODAY SHOW BOOK CLUB PICK A BELLETRIST BOOK CLUB PICK NAMED A MOST ANTICIPATED BOOK BY New York Times Time Marie Claire Elle Buzzfeed Huffington Post Good Housekeeping The Week Goodreads New York Post Publishers Weekly and many more "This is a true beach read! You can't put it down!" ? Jenna Bush Hager, Today Show Book Club Pick "Powerful . . . A twisting tale of love, loss, and dark family secrets." ? Paula Hawkins, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Girl on the Train and Into the Water A poignant and suspenseful drama that untangles the complicated ties binding three women?two sisters and their mother?in one Chinese immigrant family and explores what happens when the eldest daughter disappears, and a series of family secrets emerge, from the New York Times bestselling author of Girl in Translation 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. A deeply moving story of family, secrets, identity, and longing, Searching for Sylvie Lee is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive portrait of an immigrant family. It is a profound exploration of the many ways culture and language can divide us and the impossibility of ever truly knowing someone?especially those we love.… (more)
Member:Jacsun
Title:Searching for Sylvie Lee: A Novel
Authors:Jean Kwok (Author)
Info:William Morrow (2019), 336 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:None

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Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok

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I’m thinking I’m disappointed in the story, but do I think the situation could have turned out differently? I keep turning over things, and the more I think about it, they are possible. And the ending was inevitable, which is just so sad.

Maybe the only thing is the timing of the realization that Sylvie’s father is actually Willem, and not Pa. That in a scene of passion with Lukas, it would finally come out. And it seems odd that it never came out in the years Sylvia lived with Helena and Willem, and H didn’t ever tell her. Because she hated Sylvie. Seemed like much of the time she hated her more than she loved Willem. And Grandma knew - and I think she also must have noticed the affection between Sylvie and Lukas. I’m surprised that she didn’t warn them off before she died.

Also, it seems unbelievable that Lukas would have sounded the alarm about Sylvie’s disappearance and then been so unforthcoming to Amy when she comes to Holland to look for her. I mean, he knows why Sylvie was upset when he last saw her, and he says nothing to Amy about it? He knows a lot about Sylvie’s husband Jim and the failed marriage, and other things about her state of mind.

The feelings of worthlessness that Sylvie had - do I believe that’s plausible? She was very smart and driven. But she was treated badly for being both a woman and Asian American. She felt like her parents didn’t love her, and certainly Helena and Willem didn’t show her affection. Willem just came across as creepy! Although it makes sense why he would to Sylvie and Amy, now that it’s revealed he’s S’s father. All she really ‘has’ are Grandma, Lukas and Amy, and she has just list two of those people.

I really liked the shifting narrative in this story - Amy and Ma in the present, Sylvie about a month before. There is so much retelling the past built in to their narratives, that when it all comes together at the end - the stories converge - it’s kind of stunning his all the pieces fit together.

And different narrators for Ma, Sylvie and Amy was great. I liked the Amy voice the best, although the voices that ther Sylvie narrator did for Lukas and Helena were great. ( )
  BeckiMarsh | Mar 28, 2021 |
There’s a lot not to like in this book. None of the characters are really likable, the structure makes it hard to follow the story, the use of idioms from three languages – while an interesting technique – is frequently jarring, and anyone who doesn’t see The Big Reveal coming from the first few chapters hasn’t been paying attention.

Other than that….

“Searching for Sylvia Lee” is essentially a mystery story. What happened to Sylvia, who had traveled from her New York home to Holland, to see her dying grandmother for the last time? Her family in America is told she got on her homebound flight, after which she simply vanishes. Her younger sister, Amy, travels to Holland to find the answers. That Dutch authorities, when they are finally contacted, are unwilling to force the airlines to reveal whether or not Sylvia boarded, or to lean on her credit card companies for records of her purchases to help trace her movements, seems incomprehensible to the American reader. And the question of appealing to the American Embassy for help – Sylvia has joint American and Dutch citizenship – is never raised. It is, of course, the author’s choice to withhold certain bits of information in novels of this genre, but there is normally a token gesture explaining why the characters didn’t take the most direct route to solving the mystery.

The narration jumps not only from character to character, but through time. We get bits of information from Ma, from Sylvia, and from Amy, bouncing back and forth over decades. Through it, we learn that Ma is a doormat, Pa is resentful, Sylvia is a liar, Sylvia’s soon-to-be ex-husband is a cheater and a bully, Amy is a dingbat, cousin Helena is a bitch, and her husband Willem is spineless. The reader may be forgiven for wondering if it’s worthwhile to wade through the verbiage to get at the family secrets simmering under the mystery of Sylvia’s disappearance.

Once The Big Reveal is made, the why and how is quickly wrapped up, and it’s probably not going to be what the reader expected, though it makes sense within the structure of the story.

Kwok has taken a big chance here with the narrative style, and it just doesn’t quite come off. Ma and Pa emigrated from China to America; Helena and Willem from China to Holland. So the characters, among them, speak Chinese, Dutch, and English. Most speak two languages, only Sylvia speaks all three, and Amy is pretty much limited to English only. As each takes their narrative turn, the sentence structure and idioms used are representative of that character’s native tongue. It’s an interesting idea, and reinforces the lack of honest communication among the characters, but it can be jarring to read phrases like “it began to rain cow tails” or “the in-breaker was surprised”.

“Searching for Sylvia Lee” is not throw-it-across-the-room bad. But it really doesn’t have much going for it to raise it above the current crop of vanished-woman tales. ( )
  LyndaInOregon | Mar 6, 2021 |
Although interesting at times, I had a lot of problems with Jean Kwok’s Searching for Sylvie Lee—from the writing to the plot and a lot of other things in between. Part mystery, part family saga, Searching tells two main stories in alternating chapters—Amy desperately trying to find her sister, Sylvie, and flashbacks to Sylvie. The narrative took turns simultaneously predictable and absurd, and Kwok never took the time to develop any of the characters past their banal surface. The mother’s voice, sprinkled amidst the chapters, felt so painfully cliched to me I could hardly read the sections. On the plus side, Kwok does a beautiful job of describing the Netherlands and makes it a better character than anyone else. By the half-way point, there is a page-turning aspect to the novel that pulled me to the end, but not happily. All in all, Searching for Sylvie Lee was a big miss for me. ( )
  Hccpsk | Mar 6, 2021 |
Two things stuck out to me with this book. First was the distinctive craft of literally writing out the idioms and phrases from different languages. It was so unexpected yet so beautiful. As someone who lived in the Netherlands, I recognized many Dutch-isms but it was also wonderful to catch a glimpse of Chinese as well.
The second thing was the writing of the atmosphere was so well done. The author's descriptions of food and places weren't overly done but just enough to give you a clear picture. I had the added bonus of knowing exactly what the Brouwersgracht looks like and many other Dutch places/things (Winkel really does have the best apple pie!) so that made it feel very real.
I loved the characters and how bit by bit you slowly start seeing them more clearly almost as the characters start realizing the truth of themselves.
The disappointment for me was the ending. It felt rather convenient. Like all the tension and build up just drained away suddenly. I felt like I need more: more time, more reason, just more to bring closure.
Still a fantastic book overall. ( )
  RachellErnst | Jan 5, 2021 |
Books about family secrets tend very much to not be my jam, and this one was no exception. I found the twists to be unconvincing and bathetic, and I found myself shouting out loud as they were revealed. I think fans of Gone Girl and Everything I Never Told You will like this book, but I was not that person. ( )
  DrFuriosa | Dec 4, 2020 |
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Epigraph
Dedication
To Erwin, Stefan, and Milan.
In memory of my beloved brother, Kwan.
First words
I am standing by the window of our small apartment in Queens, watching as Ma and Pa leave for their jobs.
Quotations
Bitterness in the mouth makes the heart strong.
In love and life, we never know when we are telling ourselves stories. We are the ultimate unreliable narrators.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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A READ WITH JENNA TODAY SHOW BOOK CLUB PICK A BELLETRIST BOOK CLUB PICK NAMED A MOST ANTICIPATED BOOK BY New York Times Time Marie Claire Elle Buzzfeed Huffington Post Good Housekeeping The Week Goodreads New York Post Publishers Weekly and many more "This is a true beach read! You can't put it down!" ? Jenna Bush Hager, Today Show Book Club Pick "Powerful . . . A twisting tale of love, loss, and dark family secrets." ? Paula Hawkins, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Girl on the Train and Into the Water A poignant and suspenseful drama that untangles the complicated ties binding three women?two sisters and their mother?in one Chinese immigrant family and explores what happens when the eldest daughter disappears, and a series of family secrets emerge, from the New York Times bestselling author of Girl in Translation 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. A deeply moving story of family, secrets, identity, and longing, Searching for Sylvie Lee is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive portrait of an immigrant family. It is a profound exploration of the many ways culture and language can divide us and the impossibility of ever truly knowing someone?especially those we love.

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