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Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai Books In Order

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Publication Order of Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai Standalone Novels

The Mountains Sing (2020)Description / Buy at Amazon
Dust Child (2023)Description / Buy at Amazon

Publication Order of Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai Collections

The Secret of Hoa Sen (2014)Description / Buy at Amazon

Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai
Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai is a fiction and poetry writer best known for her historical fiction novel The Mountain Sing. During the Viet Nam War, this talented author was a young girl, and she witnessed its devastating aftermath. Before winning a university scholarship in Australia, Quế Mai worked as a rice farmer and street seller. Going back to school rekindled the author’s love for writing, and she has a collection of poetry, fiction and non-fiction published works to her name. Quế Mai also holds a Lancaster University Ph.D. in Creative Writing. Most of her work is in Vietnamese, and The Mountain Sing is her first novel in English.

The Mountains Sing
The Mountains Sing is a multigenerational tale that takes you deep into the Tran Family. This story is set with the Viet Nam War as the backdrop, and it shows how four generations were affected by the war. The story starts with Dieu Lan fleeing from her home with her six children in tow. The year is 1920, and the Land Reform, thanks to the rise of the Communist government, is just coming into effect. This woman born of successful farmers is not impoverished, and with all those children to raise, life will be tough for her. Will this woman ever get her land back?

Many years later, Dieu Lan’s young granddaughter, Hương, will be coming to age as her parents and uncle go off to the Ho Chí Minh Trail. Hương grows up witnessing the effects of the Vietnam- American war firsthand. Her father is a dedicated soldier fighting for his country, while her mother works as a doctor. For a while during her childhood, she has to endure growing away from her parents. Even after the soldiers come home after the end of the war, nothing is ever the same again. The trauma lives in these men, and while they try to do right by their families, they are not always successful.

This book tells the stories of the people of Vietnam and their suffering during and after the war. These stories are told from the perspective of a young girl and her grandmother. Through these two women and a host of other characters, you get intimate details about the War, the Great Hunger, and the Land Reform that forced many from their homes. While timelines for these two narrators move chronologically, the timelines alternate. Do not be surprised if Trấn Diệu Lan is a young lady in one chapter old to be an older woman in the next one. Fortunately, the timeline is indicated at the beginning of the chapter, so you will not get lost.

This story brutally portrays the hardships, death, and hunger the people of Viet Nam went through thanks to the war. It brings to the surface the human costs brought by conflict. The effects were felt many decades later, and the trauma from those who went to war stayed for generations. While the pain of war characterizes the story, it is also filled with love, pride, and hope. The author shows the beauty of Vietnam in the pages as well as the pride of its people. You also get to read about their customs and beliefs.

While you may have read a lot about the Viet Nam war, not many books are written from the Vietnamese perspective. The Vietnam war was more than an American tragedy, and many people, including the author’s family have to suffer through losses and untold suffering many years after the war ended. Like in every war, no one wins. However, the plight of the Vietnamese people will tug at your heartstrings. Sadly, so many people had to pay for this war that had little to do with them.

The author is clear and brave in her presentation. She doesn’t shy away from interrogating the Communist government and its oppressive land reforms. Even modest earners are killed or stripped of their properties by greedy landlords. She also highlights other effects of the war in a way that will make you think about the unfairness of it all. The author’s prose remains descriptive and straightforward from the beginning to the last page, and the story flows seamlessly. She introduces you to her people’s beliefs, religious practices, and ways of life. It feels excellent to immerse in the culture and to learn a lot about Vietnam and its people. There are some Vietnamese phrases in the story but not too many to affect the flow of the story.

The characters in this book are uncomplicated and easy to identify with. This, in addition to the anecdotal storytelling and dialogue, makes this sound like a fable. Suffering and violence are in plenty, and while the tale is realistic, this is not your average war story. It is more of a country’s journey torn apart by many forces but working to grow again. Like Vietnam, the Tran Family is broken in more ways than one, but these people never stop trying to make things better. It is incredible how the author celebrates things like kindness, tenacity, and home. The message of empathy is evident throughout this story. It is great how this author has turned what has been documented as a shadowy enemy into people filled with humanity.

The Mountains Sing offers a panoramic view of the heartbreak, calamity, and perseverance of the people of Vietnam. From the 1930s to the 1970s, this country was characterized by invasion, upheaval, and occupation. While this is a work of fiction, some of the events highlighted in it actually happened. Vietnam has suffered in the hands of those looking to exploit her. Sadly, its citizens were caught up in this mess. These impersonal forces include the condescending French colonizers, the Japanese keen to expand their territory brutally, and the Americans with their bombs and pesticides. It is not all gloom as the story also comes with a message of hope, and it is incredible that the country is slowly but surely healing.

Book Series In Order » Authors » Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai

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