The Water Beetles by Michael Kaan

Goose Lane Editions, 2017

I read once that each of us has a novel in us somewhere. If you are a reader you may have even asked yourself what novel you have to share with the world. Michael Kaan, a Manitoba writer, has penned a gripping and intense novel based on a family connection and I am guessing that this is the novel he had to write. While I was a student at the University of Manitoba, Michael Kaan’s sister was a classmate of mine and it is interesting to read a novel grounded in the DNA of a family I knew for a short time.

In December of 1941, the Japanese invaded Hong Kong and pre-war life ended for its inhabitants. The Water Beetles is the story of the Leung family’s experience of the Japanese occupation. The youngest boy, Chung-Man, is our focal point as the family moves from a luxurious and grounded life in Hong Kong, to a perilous existence with family members dispersed across China. The novel follows Chung-Man and his brother and details their experiences during and after the war. The physical and emotional travails of those years are imprinted on the family and have generational effects

Kaan acknowledges that he based characters on his own father’s journals from the war years.  Kaan’s father survived the war and eventually made his way to Canada where he became a doctor in Winnipeg but the dislocations of war had an effect long after the Japanese were defeated. One generation away and the son has tackled this experience from within the pages of a novel. As Kaan has said in an interview, stories of dislocation and heartache of war are far too common. In his first novel, Michael Kaan has produced a very powerful and true account of this too common human experience.

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