cover image The Lotus and the Storm

The Lotus and the Storm

Lan Cao. Viking, $27.95 (400p) ISBN 978-0-670-01692-1

Growing up in ’60s South Vietnam in Saigon’s sister city of Cholon, young Mai first comes into contact with the changes brought by war through benign delights such as the music of Mick Jagger and chewing gum, both provided by the handful of American officers stationed at a military compound near her house. It is when she describes moments of surprising intimacy like these that Cao (Monkey Bridge) shines, but jarring shifts in time period and perspective mar the flow of her intriguing story. The book is narrated by both Mai and her father, Mr. Minh, who serves as a colonel in the South Vietnamese Army, in opposition to his brother-in-law in the Vietcong—to Mai, Uncle Number Two. After barely surviving the Tet Offensive, Mai and her father relocate to the U.S. Minh’s wartime memories from the vantage point of 2006 are interspersed with Mai’s recollections of her life during the 1960s and ’70s. It gradually becomes clear that Mai’s trauma is playing out as an inner war between two personas, each with a distinct narrative voice. While Cao chronicles her characters’ lives with clarity and suspense, the book’s awkward structure prevents the pieces from fitting neatly together. Agent: Ellen Geiger, Frances Goldin Literary. (Aug.)