When the Future Comes Too Soon

Written by Selina Siak Chin Yoke
Review by Viviane Crystal

The matriarch of the Chye Hoon family has died, and now it is her daughter-in-law, Mei Foong, and her husband, Weng Yu, who must guide the family through tumultuous times. The British have abandoned Malaya (as it was then known), and the Japanese occupation has begun. Mei Foong cherishes Malayan and Chinese culture, telling her children classic Chinese tales to imbue them with the sense of their classical past. Her life seems bleak until she meets Chew Hock San, who helps her and her children during a surprise bombing, only to find her drunk husband cowering in a corner of the shelter. Her husband is given a job in the new regime as a senior engineer in the reconstructed Public Works Department, and her son attends a Japanese school. Some neighbors call this survival; some call it collaboration. Occasionally, Mei Foong and Hock meet, and her intense feelings seem to be shared, substantiated when he gives her a gift of the classic Chinese tale “Dream of the Red Chamber” while her husband is in the hospital with pneumonia.

The outcome of this relationship will stun readers. This is a novel of survival and love, both unsolicited, but both parallel to the immense changes occurring in a former British protectorate. Confusion and constant living on the edge of fear elicit previously unimagined desires, and the choices evolving from that wartime chaos are unpredictable and painful but admirable. Mei Foong is an enigmatic character representative of real women surviving the 1940s wartime years in Asia. Books 1 (The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds) and 2 of this series are excellent historical fiction reads!