Talking Location With author Graham Hurley: BAKU
Sweeping novel set in Vietnam
4th May 2021
The Mountains Sing by Nguyen Phan Que Mai, sweeping novel set in Vietnam.
This is a novel I would definitely read prior to visiting Vietnam. It wonderfully evokes the history and people and focusses on one family, the Trans. The novel is written in an instructive way that left me wanting to find out more.
I naturally remember bits about the Vietnam – American – war and this novel offered me a more expansive understanding of what it was life for people on the ground. So much of the history of this country in the second half of the 20th Century has left trauma in its wake, as foreign nations have interfered in the politics of the country, from the Japanese in WW2 to the French and the Americans. Combined with Communism, which clearly wasn’t the nirvana, the Land Reforms instigated by the national government, took their toll on everyone and in 1945 there was a terrible famine to add to the misery.
The two main protagonists in this novel are grandmother and granddaughter, Dieu Lan and Huong respectively. Huong’s mother Ngoc has her own agenda, leaving her daughter behind in the care of her own mother as she goes to minister to others. Dieu Lan was a teacher but as the political upheavals mark the cultural and phsysical landscape, she determines the only way forward is for her to become a trader, which was outlawed under Communist rule – everyone had access to equal supplies, in theory. It was the only way to survive. Imagine the ramifications – even – of owning a bicycle when no single person was entitled to more than anyone else
Huong grows into her teenage years, all the while learning more of her grandmother’s backstory. The novel opens when grandmother herself is a child and accompanies her father from the countryside to Hanoi and already, with the Japanese in the country, attrocities are commonplace.
This is so much more than history, this is a rich tale of family relationships, as each member negotiates the shifting political landscape.
And what a beautiful cover!! It has caught my eye on several occasions whilst the book has been sitting on my bookshelf waiting for its turn to be read.
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