Lead Review

  • Book: If I Had Two Lives
  • Location: New England, New York City (NYC), Vietnam
  • Author: Abbigail N Rosewood

Review Author: tripfiction



If I Had Two Lives is a brilliant debut novel in two parts. Abbigail, like the heroine in the book, was brought up in Vietnam until the age of twelve and then moved to the United States. The first half of the book describes life in Vietnam for our nameless heroine (the book is written in the first person throughout and she never tells us her name…). From the age of four to twelve she lives in a military camp with her mother somewhere in Vietnam. Her mother has been moved to the camp for her own protection from elements in the government that are hostile to her. Life in the camp is not easy, but it is not too difficult. She is befriended by ‘her’ soldier, who looks after her and tutors her (and for whom she has a childish crush…) and by the only other girl in the camp – someone of similar age, but very different background. They play together incessantly.

When she is twelve her mother arranges for her to escape Vietnam by emigrating to the States. She promises she will follow, but never does – in fact she rises to a position of considerable power and influence under a new regime in Vietnam. Our heroine lives with various distant relatives and friends until she is an adult. But she cannot escape her past. She sees on the New York subway someone who reminds her of ‘her’ soldier and follows him to his house. She moves into the apartment below his, and they become friends. On a weekend trip to new England she meets, and begins to fall in love with, a woman who reminds her of the girl in the camp. The woman is married, but can’t have children. She has an affair with her and finally agrees to be a surrogate mother to the couple’s baby. To do so she has to make a baby (in the normal way) with the husband. They really do become a threesome. Just before the birth the couple are killed in a car crash – and our heroine is left (literally) holding the baby.

Four years later she sets off with her daughter to Vietnam – in an effort to lay her past to rest. She intends to seek out both her mother (who she sees but only from afar) and the girl from the camp – now, of course, a woman. The woman has fallen on tough times and scratches out a living as a beggar living in a slum hut. She, too, has a daughter the same age as our heroine’s. At first she pretends not to recognise her erstwhile friend, but then she comes round. She wants a better life for her daughter, and wants her to go back to the States with our heroine and her daughter. To facilitate this she commits suicide and leaves her friend to adopt her child.

Luckily the two girls get on famously. Back in New York they form a credible (if somewhat oddl) family with the heroine and the man upstairs who reminds her of ‘her’ soldier. As far as we know, they live happily ever after.

If I Had Two Lives is a more than impressive debut novel – handling difficult issues with sensitivity and a beautiful and involving writing style.


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