Now You See Us - Book Review



Author: Balli Kaur Jaswal

Publisher: HarperCollins India

Price: 366 INR

Pages: 344

Genre: Mystery

Buy At: Amazon


About the Book:

Hidden lives. Buried secrets... It's time to shine a spotlight on it all.

Corazon, Angel and Donita have all come to Singapore to work for a living. The thing that unites them? Their labour must remain unseen.

Then an explosive news story shatters Singapore's 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 for crimes they didn't commit.

Shocked into action, Donita, Corazon and Angel must gather every ounce of bravery and gumption to piece together the mystery of what really happened on that fateful day. After all, no one knows the secrets of Singapore's families like the women who work in their homes...


The book at the onset reads like a social commentary, a satire with a comic twist, highlighting the discriminations faced by the migrant domestic female workers from Philippines at the hands of the organizations that recruit them and their immediate employers. Their lives lack the dignity and respect in social settings. They are always distrusted, branded a thief when anything in the house is misplaced, speculated about doing black magic, not given proper food or allowances, sometimes even abused. If they are of ill health, they are accused of trying to shirk work, take time off, or spreading diseases. Some are blackmailed and threatened and have to live in fear. The organizations that recruit them puts then in huge debt, treats them like cheap labour, lends them illegally to factories for manual labour as it knows no one would dare raise a voice, and if anyone does, it would rather go unheard.

They are vulnerable to exploitations in systems that do not protect them. The Ministry does a routine health check-up i.e once in six months, just to determine whether any of them is pregnant, which results in their deportation back to Philippines. They have no rights in this country, where they have moved for better work opportunities, higher salaries and prospects. Through Cora, Angel, Donita and Flor we see the injustices they suffer in their day-to-day lives. There’s a mystery at the core, also it’s a tale of friendship. It’s about the underdogs, the invisible in the Singaporean high-class society who run the show and are indispensable but are unacknowledged.

When Flor is accused of murdering her employer, the police convict her without too much fuss of an investigation, just because she has no alibi. Cora, Angel and Donita try to carry out their own little investigation instead to find proof that Flor is innocent. They had seen enough in life to know that powerful men can get away with murder ‘just because they sit in boardrooms and live in big houses’. Meanwhile the Facebook Ma’am Pages, that of the employers, blows up with opinions and prejudices about how Pinoy women and maids in general cannot be trusted, how they are taking advantage of the employers’, etc. And in the domestic worker Facebook groups, women warn each other not to talk about it as their comments too can be reported. ‘Everybody is better off minding their own business.’ The media also slowly forgets the incident and brings down reportage of the case. But slowly and steadily clues appear. Again, nothing’s easy as the police can’t lose face after pinning the murder on Flordeliza. It’s easier to close the case, on popular public opinion that thinks Flordeliza Martinez is guilty.

I knew nothing about the extra judicial killings in Philippines, or the drug wars or the license to kill that the police had there to shoot any suspect peddling in drugs. As per the International Criminal Courts (ICC) almost 30k people are dead due to this as of June, 2021. How messed up is our world!?!

But all is not dreary. We see the goodness of employers through Ma’am Elizabeth who tries to make Cora a part of her family. But the harshness of the employers is depicted so well through Mrs. Fann who leaves no stone unturned to harass Donita. All in all, it’s a good read, a wholesome package.


About the Author:

Balli Kaur Jaswal is the author of five novels, including Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows, which was a Reese Witherspoon's Book Club pick in 2018. Born in Singapore and raised in Japan, Russia and the Philippines, Jaswal studied creative writing in the United States and worked as an English teacher in Australia and Turkey. She has held fellowships at the University of East Anglia and Nanyang Technological University, where she also completed her PhD in South Asian diaspora writing. Jaswal's non-fiction has appeared in the New York Times, Harper's Bazaar India, Refinery29 and, among other publications.


 This review is powered by Blogchatter Book Review Program.


Queeristan by Parmesh Sahani

  Queeristan (Amazon Link) Thanks to Audible Free Trial I listened to this amazing non-fiction on LGBTQ inclusion in Indian workplaces. Author Parmesh Sahani identifies as gay Indian, working closely with Godrej higher management and employees for years to create an inclusive workplace, both legally and in spirit. This book is a result of those years of experience, research, collaboration with individuals from difference spectrum of the society and organizations who has successfully transitioned into a queer friendly one.   Indian history is inclusive. From the Khajuraho temple architectures, to Konark to the Rig Veda, there is existing proofs even 2000 years ago of Indian inclusiveness of queer. It’s the draconian British law that criminalised it, which was scraped in 2009, came into effect once again following a sad judgement in 2013 and eventually was scraped off for good in 2018. I am in awe of the lawyers who fought this legal battle- colleagues and partners – Arundhati Katju

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