Now You See Us by Balli Kaur Jaswal
For a look at the lives of domestic workers in Sinagpore, for slow character studies and secrets
A veteran domestic worker, Corazon had retired back to the Philippines for good, but she has returned to Singapore under mysterious circumstances. Now she’s keeping a secret from her wealthy employer, who is planning an extravagant wedding for her socialite daughter.
Barely out of her teens, this is Donita’s first time in Singapore, and she’s had the bad luck to be hired by the notoriously fussy Mrs. Fann. Brazen and exuberant, Donita’s thrown herself into a love affair with an Indian construction worker and started a lively social media account that says more than it should.
Working as an in-home caregiver for an elderly employer, Angel is feeling blue after a recent breakup with the woman she loves. She’s alarmed when her employer’s son suddenly brings in a new Filipina nurse who may be a valuable ally, or who may be meant to replace her.
Then an explosive news story shatters Singapore’s famous tranquility—and sends a chill down the spine of every domestic worker: Flordeliza Martinez, a Filipina maid, has been arrested for murdering her female employer. The three women don’t know the accused well, but she could be any of them; every worker knows stories of women who were scapegoated or even executed for crimes they didn’t commit.
Shocked into action, Donita, Corazon, and Angel will use their considerable moxie and insight to piece together the mystery of what really happened on the day Flordeliza’s employer was murdered. After all, no one knows the secrets of Singapore’s elite like the women who work in their homes.
I probably would’ve stopped reading this if I hadn’t already been most of the way through. By about 75% I was determining that there genuinely just wasn’t much happening in this book. It’s more about learning a bit about each person than about things happening. Yes, there’s a subplot of a murder mystery, but it felt very unimportant to me for the majority of the book. So if you come into this, come into it expecting an almost diary-like portrayal of three women’s lives.
And yet, despite the narration from each person, I felt like I didn’t know any of them very well, or at least not well enough to care much about them. I kept getting people confused despite having seen them multiple times, and I think it’s just because they didn’t make much of an impression. Angel as a character felt unnecessary to the story overall despite the one thing she does which impacts the flimsy plot, which sucks because that’s a third of the main characters that then felt like a waste of time to read. However, I think part of that is because I expected more of a plot, so if I had gone in expecting to just learn about some people’s lives, it probably would’ve gone much smoother. I would’ve started it when that was something I was interested in; unfortunately this time, I had been looking for a book where more happened.
For what it was, it was well done. The author includes notes about the facts and interviews that the story is based on, which makes it just that much more horrifying with the hard truth that this isn’t just a novel — this IS actually the lives of many people. Yikes.
My overall response to this book is that I didn’t enjoy it much and it wasn’t really for me, but I can absolutely see others enjoying it. I respect and see the value in this story, it just didn’t hit right for me.
3 thoughts on “Review: Now You See Us by Balli Kaur Jaswal”
Personally, if I was going to read about people in this situation I would prefer it to be a non-fiction account. I want more of the fantastical in my fiction (whether outright fantasy, or something else… I need that magic in my fiction). A lot of my friends, though, read books like this. I’m just glad there’s such a variety in books for us to discover what we like best!
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Honestly that’s a lot of how I ended up feeling too, that if it wasn’t going to have a thick plot and focus more on day-to-day life I might as well have just read nonfiction. However reading the amount of research and interviews they did for it seems like this was just shy of being nonfiction.
Yo same. My boyfriend usually plays humans in video games like WoW and I’m like “YOU’RE ALREADY HUMAN!! Why pick something you already are when you could be a space cow or a panda or a werewolf or a fox!!”
I realized in going through my characters recently that I have basically no humanoid characters (dwarves, elves, humans…). Beast characters all the way for me baby!!
Interesting, so you could almost approach it as if it was non-fiction (even though it’s not).
I usually play elves in D&D-style games. Though honestly, I will sometimes play as humans if I get to be a wizard or something. Wizardry is sufficient to fulfill my fantasy urge. 🙂
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