Hà Nội, 1972. Hương and her grandmother, Trần Diệu Lan, cling to one another in their improvised shelter as American bombs fall around them. Her father and mother have already left to fight in a war that is tearing not just her country but her family apart. For Trần Diệu Lan, forced to flee the family farm with her six children decades earlier as the Communist government rose to power in the North, this experience is horribly familiar. Seen through the eyes of these two unforgettable women, The Mountains Sing captures their defiance and determination, hope and unexpected joy.
Vivid, gripping, and steeped in the language and traditions of Việt Nam, celebrated Vietnamese poet Nguyễn’s richly lyrical debut weaves between the lives of grandmother and granddaughter to paint a unique picture of the country’s turbulent twentieth-century history. This is the story of a people pushed to breaking point, and a family who refuse to give in.
What I Thought:
I’m thrilled today to be closing out the blog tour for The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai.
While reading this book, I thought to myself that this is the first time I’ve read a book set in Vietnam from the perspective of the people of Vietnam. There are plenty of books that deal with the Vietnam war but they seem to be of the American experience of that war – they say that history is written by the victors, but seemingly not in this case.
Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai has written the stunning saga of a Vietnamese family, starting before World War 2, and leading through the communist Land Reform in Vietnam into, and after the war. Many of the situations described were previously unknown to me, and have helped me add context to my historical knowledge of Vietnam.
The book jumps back and forth in time as Trần Diệu Lan passes on the stories of her life to her granddaughter recalling the members of her family she has lost and her struggle to keep her children together under unforgiving circumstances. Many of the historical details are vividly portrayed, and the author never shies away from the traumatic and graphic situations that ordinary Vietnamese people were subjected to in a time of great societal change.
You can see Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’s background in writing poetry in many of the passages as she describes the beauty of Vietnam and portrays the raw emotions of her characters. This is especially well done in Hương’s mother’s case – she returns from the war severely affected by her experiences which we read about in her journal in shocking and tragic detail.
As I have already mentioned, this book is an excellent starting point to learn more about the experience of ordinary Vietnamese people during the war. As an alternative perspective to the many books written from the western viewpoint, I would recommend it.
The Mountains Sing is published by Oneworld.
This post is part of a blog tour to celebrate The Mountains Sing – for more reviews, extracts and exclusive content, why not check out some of the blogs below?
Please note: I was sent a copy of this book for review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.