cover image Dust Child

Dust Child

Nguyễ n Phan Quế Mai. Algonquin, $28 (336p) ISBN 978-1-64375-275-4

Vietnamese writer Nguyễn (The Mountains Sing) focuses on “Amerasians,” the children of American GIs and Vietnamese women conceived during the Vietnam war, in this rewarding if formulaic outing. Forty-something Tấ n Phong, a half-Black half-Vietnamese “child of the enemy,” features in the first of two complementary story lines, as Phong attempts to immigrate with his family to the United States under the Amerasian Homecoming Act in 2016. The second follows Dan, a war veteran who returns to Vietnam from the U.S. with his wife, Linda. Dan carries a secret: during the war, he had an affair with a Vietnamese woman who gave birth to their child. Now, Dan wants to track them down in hopes of reconciliation. Nguyễn nimbly skips around in time to flesh out both Phong’s and Dan’s desires, pain, and guilt. By the end, the plots converge and resolve in a satisfying if somewhat predictable outcome. Though the structure feels a bit forced, Nguyễn is at her best when the characters directly address their need for absolution and acceptance, which Nguyễn stages in dramatic scenes and with a cinematic clarity. Despite the bumps, there’s much to admire. Agent: Julie Stevenson, Massie & McQuilkin. (Mar.)