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Fiction Literary

The Water Beetles

by (author) Michael Kaan

Goose Lane Editions
Initial publish date
Apr 2017
Literary, War & Military, Historical, Sagas
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Apr 2017
    List Price
  • CD-Audio

    Publish Date
    Jan 2020
    List Price
  • CD-Audio

    Publish Date
    Jan 2021
    List Price

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Winner, 2018 Amazon Canada First Novel Award, 2018 McNally Robinson Book of the Year, and 2018 Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction
Shortlisted, 2017 Governor General's Award for Fiction and 2018 Eileen McTavish Sykes Award for Best First Book
A National Post Best Book of 2017
A Walter Scott Prize Academy Recommended Historical Novel of 2017
On CBC Books' list of writers to watch in 2018

The Leung family leads a life of secluded luxury in Hong Kong. But in December 1941, the Empire of Japan invades the colony. The family is quickly dragged into a spiral of violence, repression, and starvation. To survive, they entomb themselves and their friends in the Leung mansion. But this is only a temporary reprieve, and the Leungs are forced to send their children away.

The youngest boy, Chung-Man, escapes with some of his siblings, and together they travel deep into the countryside to avoid the Japanese invaders. Thrown into a new world, Chung-Man befriends a young couple who yearn to break free of their rural life. But their friendship ends when the Japanese arrive, and Chung-Man is once again taken captive. Unwittingly and willingly, he enters a new cycle of violence and punishment, until he finally breaks free from his captors and returns to Hong Kong.

Deeply scarred, Chung-Man drifts along respectfully and dutifully, enveloped by the unspoken vestiges of war. It is only as he leaves home once again — this time for university in America — that he finally glimpses a way to keep living with his troubled and divided self.

Written in restrained, yet beautiful and affecting prose, The Water Beetles is an engrossing story of adventure and survival. Based loosely on the diaries and stories of the author's father, this mesmerizing story captures the horror of war, through the eyes of a child, with unsettling and unerring grace.

About the author

Michael Kaan was born in Winnipeg, the second child of a father from Hong Kong and a Canadian mother. He completed a degree in English from the University of Manitoba, later completing an MBA in Health Economics from the same institution. He has worked as a healthcare administrator since 2000, primarily in mental health and health research. He currently manages a mental health clinic. His father died in 2006, and Michael came into possession of his memoirs shortly thereafter. The Water Beetles is his first novel.

Michael Kaan's profile page


  • Winner, Amazon Canada First Novel Award
  • Winner, McNally Robinson Book of the Year
  • Short-listed, Eileen McTavish Sykes Award for Best First Book
  • Winner, Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction
  • Joint winner, A Favourite Book of 2017 by National Post
  • Short-listed, Governor General's Award for Fiction
  • Commended, A Walter Scott Prize Academy Recommended Historical Novel

Editorial Reviews

"Michael Kaan’s spider-silken debut demands second read. [A] high-wire act of literary derring-do."

<i>Toronto Star</i>

"I could not put this book down."

<i>What Next?</i>

"Kaan has created a narrator who reveals his dramatic tale with such anguish and ironic restraint that truth-revealing consequences — the prickly truths of being inescapably human — are driven deeper into a reader’s heart. A work most deserving of serious attention."

Wayson Choy

"Kaan has succeeded in producing a work of lasting power. Introduced on these pages is a writer as skilled at crafting prose as he is at revealing the sufferings of war and lapsed time."

<i>The Georgia Straight</i>

"Twelve-year-old Chung-Man transports the reader from the halcyon days of upper-class life in pre-war Hong Kong into the brutality of the Japanese occupation where cruelty has no limits. Written in clean, elegant prose, The Water Beetles is a powerful and gripping account of a young boy’s coming of age during that most harrowing of times. A most impressive debut."

Judy Fong Bates

"It is an understatement to say Kaan’s novel is an impressive debut. It immediately enters into the canon of coming-of-age stories, as powerful as any you can name."

<i>Winniped Free Press</i>

"Kaan is able to balance the bloodshed with beautiful imagery and detail."

<i>The Magazine</i>

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