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.
Searching for Sylvie Lee combines drama, mystery and suspense as we follow Amy’s search for her sister, who has disappeared from the town in Holland where she was staying with extended family. She left semingly to fly back to America but never arrived, and Amy decides to find her.
The plot is split betwen the present day and the past, spanning various narrative viewpoints, from Amy’s in the present day as she desperately tries to track Slyvie’s movements, and Sylvie’s, as she recounts her experiences moving to Holland to stay with her cousin and her family as a young child plus returning there again as an adult, as well as their mom’s. The various characters all offer a little more about their lives whilst retaining a certain level of mystery which keeps the reader intrigued.
Although there are some fairly slow parts of this novel, I found that it kept my attention well. However, I struggled to identify with either Amy or Sylvie – I didn’t feel like I really got to know either properly. Because the novel has a certain level of mystery surrounding it, and Sylvie herself is intentionally a bit of an enigma (as you don’t know what’s happened to her for most of the story), I don’t think this affected my enjoyment of the book much.
I really enjoyed the descriptions of Holland, and the important issues raised within its pages (which I won’t give too much away of here). One theme I found particularly interesting is that of immigration and the ways we can feel out of place whether we’re first or second generation immigrants.
There are some poignant parts which left me feeling a little sad afterwards, but I feel like Searching for Sylvie Lee wrapped up really well at the end. The writing in this novel is beautiful, and I really enjoyed reading it; I now want to read more of Jean Kwok’s novels.
Many thanks to the publisher, John Murray Press, for providing a copy of this book on which I chose to write an honest and unbiased review.