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PDF Discussion Guide for The Storm We Made by Vanessa Chan

the storm we made book club questions

Book club questions and discussion guide for The Storm We Made by Vanessa Chan – think about espionage and its repercussions; the complexities of colonial power, & the enduring struggle for survival amid the horrors of war.

This is one of those books that’s hard to read, but you have to finish it. It’s haunting and emotional. The characters are memorable. Their stories are heartbreaking. Each one of them trying to eke out a life amidst war and horrifying circumstances.

Be sure to let me know your thoughts about the novel as well! Feel free to comment below.

The Storm We Made by Vanessa Chan

Discussions may revolve about multifaceted relationships between the colonized and their oppressors, examining the blurred lines between right and wrong when faced with dire circumstances.

About the Author | Book Club Questions | Discussion Guide

Additional Recommendations

About the Story

The Storm We Made is set in Malaya (now Malaysia) during World War II and it revolves around Cecily Alcantara and her family, who find themselves in grave danger. Cecily, once a housewife, became entangled in espionage a decade ago, driven by a desire for an “Asia for Asians.” However, her actions led to a more brutal Japanese occupation.

As the war reaches its peak in 1945, Cecily’s past catches up with her, putting her family on the brink of destruction. Her son has disappeared, her daughter is at risk of being forced into service, and another is growing increasingly resentful. Cecily is torn between the guilt of her choices and the desperate need to protect her family.

The novel explores the consequences of colonial power, the struggles within a family affected by war, and the moral ambiguity of choices made in the pursuit of survival.

About the Author

vanessa chan author

Vanessa Chan is the Malaysian author of The Storm We Made, a national bestseller, Good Morning America Book Club Pick and BBC Radio 2 Book Club pick. Acquired by international publishers in a flurry of auctions, the novel, her first, will be published in more than twenty languages worldwide.

Vanessa is also the author of The Ugliest Babies in the World, a story collection about feral girls in post-colonial Malaysia trying to solve the mysteries of their bloodlines.

Her other work has been published in Vogue, Esquire, and more. Vanessa grew up in Malaysia and is now based mostly in Brooklyn. 

Book Club Questions for The Storm We Made

  1. The novel explores the consequences of colonial power and the shocking repercussions that follow for Cecily Alcantara’s family and their country. How does the setting in Malay during World War II contribute to the overall impact of the story? In what ways does the historical backdrop shape the characters’ experiences?
  2. Cecily Alcantara’s decision to become a spy for General Fujiwara sets off a chain of events with profound consequences for her family. How do you feel about Cecily’s choices and the moral dilemmas she faces throughout the novel? Did your perception of her character change over the course of the story?
  3. The story is told from the perspectives of four unforgettable characters. How does this narrative structure enhance the storytelling? Did you find yourself connecting more with a specific character, and why?
  4. “The Storm We Made” delves into the complexities of family relationships during times of war. Discuss the impact of war on Cecily’s relationships with her children—Jujube, Abel, and Jasmin. How does war affect the dynamics between family members?
  5. The book addresses the ambiguity of right and wrong when survival is at stake. Can you identify moments in the story where characters grapple with moral decisions? How do these moments contribute to the overall theme of the novel?
  6. How did the author’s writing style and storytelling techniques contribute to your engagement with the novel? Were there specific passages or descriptions that stood out to you?
  7. What did you think about the novel’s portrayal of the horrors of war, the relationships between the colonized and their oppressors, and the ambiguity of right and wrong. Were there specific scenes or passages that left a lasting impression on you regarding these themes?
  8. How does the author use symbolism, such as storms and the monsoon, to convey deeper meanings in the narrative? Discuss the significance of these elements throughout the book.
  9. In the dual timelines of 1935-1945, the story reveals Cecily’s transformation from a housewife to a spy and the repercussions on her family. How does the author use the structure of the narrative to build tension and suspense? Were there moments where you found the storytelling particularly impactful?
  10. The novel has received praise for its historical accuracy and portrayal of lesser-known aspects of World War II. Did you learn something new about the time and place from reading “The Storm We Made”? How did the historical context contribute to your understanding of the characters’ experiences?
  11. The author’s note mentions that the novel was inspired by the author’s grandparents’ reluctance to discuss the Japanese occupation in Malaya. How does this personal connection impact the authenticity of the story, and did it influence your perception of the narrative?
  12. Vanessa Chan’s debut novel has been praised for its portrayal of historical events and the human impact of war. In what ways did the historical context enrich the storytelling? Did you find the portrayal of the Japanese occupation in Malaya (Malaysia) to be different from other WWII narratives you’ve encountered?
  13. How does the novel depict the complexities of espionage, and what are some instances where characters grapple with the consequences of their actions?
  14. The book club members have various opinions on Cecily’s character, the storytelling, and the historical aspects. How did your individual perspectives shape your overall enjoyment of the novel? Did you find common ground with others in your group, or were there differing viewpoints?
  15. If you had to sum up the novel in a few words, how would you describe “The Storm We Made”? What emotions did it evoke for you, and would you recommend it to others?

Additional Recommendations

Madame Pommery by Rebecca Rosenberg

1860, Reims, France. Grief hangs heavy, threatening to drown Alexandrine Pommery’s future. Widowed and burdened, she could easily succumb. But a spark ignites within her and she dares to dream of a champagne unlike any other – a dry, crisp masterpiece instead of the traditional sugary sweet champagne.

Her vision meets scoffs. “Who would drink such a thing?” But Alexandrine’s spirit is unyielding. In the vineyards, she coaxes grapes to their peak. In the cellars, she experiments. Each trial, each misstep, fuels the fire of her creation – Pommery Brut, a champagne as dry as her resolve, yet bubbling with rebellion.

The Franco-Prussian War shatters the peace in 1870. Son and crew march off, leaving Alexandrine to train women her revolutionary methods. But the Prussian invasion steals all hope, as the army pillages her cellars of precious Brut.
Alexandrine refuses to be a victim. She excavates secret caves under the city dump, and hides her champagne from the enemy. Her cellars become a refuge, not just for bottles, but for the French resistance.

To make matters more complicated, two men offer her their love. One, too young, improper, perhaps even scandalous. The other, a Scottish Baron, promises a castle and title, and a life beyond the relentless toil of champagne. Now torn between two men, Alexandrine must find the courage to forge her own path of legacy or love.

The Change by Kirsten Miller

In the Long Island oceanfront community of Mattauk, three different women discover that midlife changes bring a whole new type of empowerment…

After Nessa James’s husband dies and her twin daughters leave for college, she’s left all alone in a trim white house not far from the ocean. In the quiet of her late forties, the former nurse begins to hear voices. It doesn’t take long for Nessa to realize that the voices calling out to her belong to the dead—a gift she’s inherited from her grandmother, which comes with special responsibilities.

On the cusp of 50, suave advertising director Harriett Osborne has just witnessed the implosion of her lucrative career and her marriage. She hasn’t left her house in months, and from the outside, it appears as if she and her garden have both gone to seed. But Harriett’s life is far from over—in fact, she’s undergone a stunning and very welcome metamorphosis.

Ambitious former executive Jo Levison has spent thirty long years at war with her body. The free-floating rage and hot flashes that arrive with the beginning of menopause feel like the very last straw—until she realizes she has the ability to channel them, and finally comes into her power.

Guided by voices only Nessa can hear, the trio of women discover a teenage girl whose body was abandoned beside a remote beach. The police have written the victim off as a drug-addicted sex worker, but the women refuse to buy into the official narrative. Their investigation into the girl’s murder leads to more bodies, and to the town’s most exclusive and isolated enclave, a world of stupendous wealth where the rules don’t apply. With their newfound powers, Jo, Nessa, and Harriett will take matters into their own hands…

Mercury by Amy Jo Burns

A roofing family’s bonds of loyalty are tested when they uncover a long-hidden secret at the heart of their blue-collar town—from Amy Jo Burns, author of the critically acclaimed novel Shiner.

It’s 1990 and seventeen-year-old Marley West is blazing into the river valley town of Mercury, Pennsylvania. A perpetual loner, she seeks a place at someone’s table and a family of her own. The first thing she sees when she arrives in town is three men standing on a rooftop. Their silhouettes blot out the sun.

The Joseph brothers become Marley’s whole world before she can blink. Soon, she is young wife to one, The One Who Got Away to another, and adopted mother to them all. As their own mother fades away and their roofing business crumbles under the weight of their unwieldy father’s inflated ego, Marley steps in to shepherd these unruly men. Years later, an eerie discovery in the church attic causes old wounds to resurface and suddenly the family’s survival hangs in the balance. With Marley as their light, the Joseph brothers must decide whether they can save the family they’ve always known—or whether together they can build something stronger in its place.

Discussion Guide for The Storm We Made

Happy reading! ❤️