The House of Little Sisters by Eva Wong Nava

The House of Little Sisters

When sixteen year-old Lim Mei Mei (Ah Mei) is sent to the home of the Eminent Mister Lee, she must embrace her new life as a mui tsai, an indentured servant girl. It’s 1931 in British Malaya and Ah Mei steps across the threshold of her new home with fear and trepidation. She knows what her life has now become and the sanctuary of her family home is no longer within her reach. Once she settles into her new way of life as companion to Lee’s young daughter, Ah Yoke, she is eventually trusted enough by the other house staff to procure ingredients. During these trips out of the confines of the house, Ah Mei meets Hassan, a Muslim shop worker and lover of poetry. He introduces her to a literary world she has never known before and their forbidden love blossoms in the few snatched moments they can spare.

She soon learns the whispered history of not only the house but of the mui tsai girls who have gone before her, in particular Ah Lian. Their spirits, during the Hungry Ghost Festival, urge her to set herself free, away from the patriarchy that threatens to control her. Ah Mei cowers from the spectres of the past as their insistence that she listen to their plight grows stronger with every passing moment. She soon learns that they have an important story to tell and she will need all her strength and courage if she is to survive and gain her freedom.

Eva Wong Nava’s ‘The House of Little Sisters’ is a novel that reaches beyond the historical narrative by capturing the elements of the past where the lives of the girls and women who were traded in service.

Eva’s meticulous and extensive research, along with her families own lived experiences, have been seamlessly brought together in a moving, sobering story of courage amid adversity, forbidden love and the perseverance to make a stand.

For those who read this book, I urge you to consider the acknowledgements at the end. The effort and painstaking study undertaken by Eva ensure this #MeToo story includes Mister Pickering and Mrs Shirin Fozdar. Two historical figures, as Eva says, ‘…plucked from their timelines to inhabit the timelines of this story. I did this to pay tribute to both these people who have contributed to the Singapore narrative in so many ways…”

I end with a statement from Eva that sums up the true depth to Ah Mei’s story in memory of those no longer with us. “…the #MeToo movement is a global movement that cannot fizzle out lest we forget that women’s bodies belong to them and to nobody else but them/us. So the more we rage, the more we get heard…”

Trigger Warning for the novel – Trafficking, rape, miscarriage, abuse.


Eva Wong Nava
Penguin Random House

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