Told from the alternating perspectives of Hương and her grandmother, The Mountains Sing charts the journey of generations of Trần family as they face severe adversities for more than two decades during the Việt Nam War and the infamous Land Reform of North Vietnam.
WHAT’S THE BOOK ABOUT
Born in 1920, Trần Diệu Lan and her family lost everything when the Communist government came to power in North Việt Nam. Forced to flee with her six children, she knows she must do whatever it takes to keep her family alive.
Fifty years later, her country is again at war, and her young granddaughter Hương grieves the loss of her parents, who have disappeared to the South along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
BEFORE YOU READ THE BOOK, KNOW THIS
The Việt Nam War, which lasted for nineteen years, resulted in over a million deaths (both civilians and soldiers).
The Land Reform (1954-1956) involved confiscating land from rich landlords and redistributing it among poor and landless peasants. Thousands of landlords, approximately 13500, were executed during this program.
WHY YOU SHOULD READ THIS BOOK
Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’s The Mountains Sing is a poignantly written story detailing the ramifications of war; how it takes away healthy men and women, and in their place, returns hollow men. In many cases, they never return leaving behind empty families in their wake. The book sheds light on how war tears apart families and makes even the wealthiest man destitute.
Oh! The turn of fortunes that war brings.
Years pass by, yet a child never sees her parents.
“If I had a wish, I would want nothing fancy, just a normal day when all of us could be together as a family; a day where we could just cook, eat, talk, and laugh. I wondered how many people around the world were having such a normal day and didn’t know how special and sacred it was.”The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai
This is what Hương wants, just a day together with the entire family, so unlike teens of her age.
A woman of a rich family is suddenly flung out of her home on the streets. Her home is no longer hers.
Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai beautifully brings out Hương’s and her grandmother’s anguish. However, despite discussing such heavy topics, the story retains a childlike innocence which further drives home the sense of loss that Hương and Diệu Lan feel. Moreover, her vividly descriptive writing brings forth Việt Nam’s rural scenes to life.
Further, she creates relatable characters. It did not take me a minute to lose myself in Hương’s world, where she is working hard day and night with her grandmother, treasuring the little moments of happiness in a time of war and scarcity and also fiercely longing for her mother, father, and uncles who have gone to war. On the other hand, Diệu Lan is a determined, brave woman with an indomitable spirit facing all the adversities of life head-on. Sure, she cries when she is hit hard by life, but she again picks up herself. She loses so much to mindless violence, yet she never gives up. Not even a single day.
Reading this book, I imbibed some invaluable lessons and hope to remember them for the rest of my life.
Despite English not being her native language, Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai has crafted a magnificent novel. There is no other word for it. For instance, have a look at this sample:
“The first sunrays glimmered on the husks under my feet. I held the broom, sweeping sunlight into a pile.”The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai
The evocative prose, the relatable characters, and a sensitive portrayal of the consequences of war make The Mountains Sing a mesmerizing novel. I completed the book in three days, trying to read as many pages as possible in one sitting.
“… the challenges faced by the Vietnamese people throughout history are as tall as the tallest mountain. I have stood far enough away to see the mountaintop, yet close enough to witness how Grandma became the tallest mountain herself: always there, always strong, always protecting us.”The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai
Through the travails of a Vietnamese family, Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’s The Mountains Sing transports us to the twentieth-century Việt Nam and gifts us an intricately woven story of grief, loss, sorrow, and hope for a better future. Read this book. It is a treasure to have and read.
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Many thanks to Anne Cater @Random Things Tours for organizing this blog tour. Many thanks to the publisher for my copy of the book. This does not affect my opinion on the book. I opted to provide an honest review on my blog.
‘The Mountains Sing is my search for lost Vietnamese history. I researched for it my whole life and wrote it when I was 39 years old. I wrote it with everything I had…’Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai
BORN IN VIETNAM in 1973, Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai grew up in the aftermath of the war and witnessed its devastation on her country. She worked as a street seller and rice farmer before winning a scholarship to attend university in Australia. She is the author of eight books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction published in Vietnamese, and her writing has been translated and published in more than 10 countries, most recently in Norton’s Inheriting the War anthology. Her work has received the Hanoi Writers Association ‘Poetry of the Year’ Award (2010). She lives with her family in Jakarta.