The Mountains Sing

Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai. Algonquin, $26.95 (352p) ISBN 978-1-61620-818-9
Nguyễn’s lyrical, sweeping debut novel (after the poetry collection The Secret of Hoa Sen) chronicles the Tran family through a century of war and renewal. As middle-aged writer Hương revisits her native Hanoi in 2012, she reflects on the lessons shared by her late grandmother Diệu Lan (“The challenges faced by Vietnamese people throughout history are as tall as the tallest mountains. If you stand too close, you won’t be able to see their peaks”) and chronicles their journey of survival during the Vietnam War. Hương was 12 when bombs encroached on Hanoi, where she lived with Diệu Lan after her mother, Ngọc, a physician, left to search for her father, a soldier in the NVA. After an evacuation to the mountains, Diệu Lan “opened the door of her childhood” to Huoung with stories of being raised by a wealthy family to pursue an education and resist old customs such as blackening her teeth. Diệu Lan also describes the harrowing truth of the Việt Minh Land Reform, during which her family’s land was seized in the spirit of resource distribution, encouraging her to question what she’s been taught in schools. Grandma and Hương return to Hanoi and find their house decimated, and Ngọc, who survived torture and rape while imprisoned by South Vietnamese soldiers, comes home without Hương’s father. In a subtle coda, Nguyễn brilliantly explores the boundary between what a writer shares with the world and what remains between family. This brilliant, unsparing love letter to Vietnam will move readers. (Mar.)
Reviewed on : 12/16/2019
Release date: 03/01/2020
Genre: Fiction
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