Now You See Us by Balli Kaur Jaswal is both a social commentary on the lives of migrant workers in Singapore and a classic Whodunit. Jaswal takes the readers to Singapore and shows them the Red Dot through the eyes of Filipina workers. Having lived in SG for close to a decade, I enjoyed traversing the little island once again and relived those memories. Ah, nostalgia!
The story begins when Cora, a domestic worker, returns to Singapore after spending years back home in the Philippines. At the Merry Maids agency, she meets Donita, a newly arrived maid who is stuck with a difficult employer. As fate would have it, both their employers are acquaintances (clearly not friends!) and strike up a conversation.
Cora’s employer, Mrs. Elizabeth Lee, treats Cora as a friend. Though Cora appreciates the warmth, the lack of boundaries makes her uncomfortable. Mrs. Fann, Donita’s employer, on the other hand, is abusive and controlling. Angel is a kind worker and is considerate of her handicapped employer’s needs, but his son’s lecherous behaviour gets on her nerves.
Cora and her long-time friend Angel befriend the tech-savvy Donita during one of their weekly offs. Their daily lives are disrupted when Donita’s friend Flor is accused of murdering her employer. According to the police, it is a simple open-and-shut case, but Donita believes otherwise. She is convinced of Flor’s innocence. The three helpers decide to investigate the case, for they know no one else cares.
Cora, Angel, and Donita–the three main protagonists are finely detailed. Each has her own distinct persona and voice. Jaswal cleverly weaves Cora, Angel, and Donita’s mysterious pasts, personal challenges, economic divide, and struggles faced by immigrant workers into the story.
Balancing a mix of fictionalised events and real occurrences, Jaswal narrates an engaging story that shows the readers different sides of Singapore. Her research into the lives of domestic workers is visible in the minutest details she shares like balikbayan boxes, Sundays at Orchard Road, extremely hard living and working conditions, demands from families back home, and the desire to find love.
The author reveals various social themes and balances mystery and drama with finesse. She sheds light on the unseen lives of domestic workers and makes the readers aware of the hardships, prejudices, poverty, and classism existing in Singaporean society.
I didn’t enjoy the mystery part of the story as much as I did the Singaporean aspects of the story. The trio as detectives weren’t really that convincing, and the eventual discovery was predictable. But as I mentioned, the story is much more than a whodunnit.
Now You See Us is a story of friendships, abuse, and social disparity. A good onetime read. I enjoyed it a lot because of the Singaporean flavour!
Wordsopedia Rating 3.45/5
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|Title: Now You See Us
|Author: Balli Kaur Jaswal
|Publisher: HarperCollins UK
|Publication date: 25 May 2023
|Genre: Fiction—General / Women’s
|No. of Pages: 352
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About the author
Balli Kaur Jaswal is a Singaporean novelist, having family roots in Punjab. Her first novel Inheritance won the Sydney Morning Herald’s Best Young Australian Novelist Award in 2014, and was adapted for a film presented at the 2017 Singapore International Festival of the Arts.
Get in touch with the author on her website.