cover image Elevator in Saigon

Elevator in Saigon

Thuân, trans. from the Vietnamese by Nguyễn An Lý. New Directions, $16.95 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-0-8112-3854-0

A Vietnamese woman becomes an amateur sleuth after her mother’s accidental death in the intriguing latest from Thuân (Chinatown). The unnamed 30-year-old narrator, a single mother, teaches Vietnamese language classes in Paris and is occasionally mistaken for her mixed-race son’s nanny. After her mother dies in a mysterious accident at her brother’s house in Saigon, she returns to Vietnam for the funeral. There, she finds an old notebook of her mother’s containing a yellowed photo of a Parisian man named Paul Polotsky. Soon after, she learns from another man that her mother knew Polotsky when she was a political prisoner during the Vietnam War. That information dredges up memories of a fight she remembers her parents having about her mother’s mysteriously quick release from prison. Back in Paris, the narrator searches for Polotsky, hoping to uncover the truth of her mother’s past. Thuân draws ingeniously on the pacing and tropes of detective fiction to craft a layered tale of family secrets. Readers will be rapt. (July)