Nguyen follows his acclaimed memoir, The Unwanted (2001) , with a daringly complex and vividly imagined debut novel about a boy who fights to reclaim his family's royal legacy in Vietnam at the turn of the century. Seven-year-old Dan Nguyen is married in childhood to a 27-year-old family servant named Ven, who hides and protects the boy when rivals come to execute Dan's parents. But Dan's strange union with Ven is disrupted when Ven contracts malaria and she is forced to sell him into slavery to the mayor's family. Dan's stint as a slave proves fateful, though, when he becomes the personal servant of the beautiful Tai May and the two fall in love. In spite of Dan's station, Tai May chooses him over a wealthy young suitor. When the spurned suitor spies on Dan and finds out about his marriage to Ven, Dan is forced to flee the family. The dizzying intricacy of the plotting occasionally becomes a bit overwhelming as Nguyen tracks Ven's tragic fate and Dan's search for Tai May while attempting to piece together a treasure map that has been laid out as an interlocking series of body tattoos. But the beauty of Nguyen's stately, ornate prose—perfectly suited to the rigidly formal customs of Vietnamese royalty—serves him well as the complex plot unfolds. The scope of the tale and its grace and power make this a formidable first novel. (Oct.)
Forecast:Nguyen's difficult early life in Vietnam as the son of a wealthy Vietnamese woman and an American GI was the subject of his memoir, The Unwanted . With The Tapestries , he proves he is at least as talented a writer of fiction as nonfiction. Booksellers might recommend him particularly to fans of Anchee Min, another writer who has made the crossover from memoir to fiction.
Release date: 10/01/2002