Review by Booklist Review
Acclaimed Vietnamese activist and best-selling writer Quế Mai (The Mountains Sing, 2020) draws for her second novel on interviews and research to explore the lasting effects of the Vietnam War, particularly on the children of American servicemen and Vietnamese women. Abandoned at birth and ostracized as a dark-skinned Amerasian, Phong is desperate to prove his parentage so that his wife and children will qualify for immigrant visas and a better life in the U.S. Meanwhile, American veteran Dan has reluctantly returned to Vietnam with his wife, who hopes the trip will help with his debilitating PTSD. Dan undertakes a clandestine search for Kim, a Vietnamese bar girl whose pregnancy he knew about but never acknowledged. Quế Mai adeptly balances these contemporary narratives with Phong's early experiences and the wartime story of sisters Trang and Quynh, who seek jobs in Saigon but are quickly ensnared in the shadowy world of nightclubs and sex work. There are no clear heroes or villains here as characters' actions and choices are shaped by their circumstances and the war's legacy.
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Vietnamese writer Nguyễn (The Mountains Sing) focuses on "Amerasians," the children of American GIs and Vietnamese women conceived during the Vietnam war, in this rewarding if formulaic outing. Forty-something Tấ n Phong, a half-Black half-Vietnamese "child of the enemy," features in the first of two complementary story lines, as Phong attempts to immigrate with his family to the United States under the Amerasian Homecoming Act in 2016. The second follows Dan, a war veteran who returns to Vietnam from the U.S. with his wife, Linda. Dan carries a secret: during the war, he had an affair with a Vietnamese woman who gave birth to their child. Now, Dan wants to track them down in hopes of reconciliation. Nguyễn nimbly skips around in time to flesh out both Phong's and Dan's desires, pain, and guilt. By the end, the plots converge and resolve in a satisfying if somewhat predictable outcome. Though the structure feels a bit forced, Nguyễn is at her best when the characters directly address their need for absolution and acceptance, which Nguyễn stages in dramatic scenes and with a cinematic clarity. Despite the bumps, there's much to admire. Agent: Julie Stevenson, Massie & McQuilkin. (Mar.)
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Review by Library Journal Review
Vietnamese author Nguyen's follow-up to her PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Award--winning The Mountains Sing is a book of searches. The child of a Vietnamese woman and a Black U.S. soldier, Phong was abandoned at birth at a Catholic orphanage and has been scorned since by his compatriots as the "dust of life." He wants desperately to find his father so that he can take his family to the United States. Dan is a white U.S. soldier returning four decades after the Vietnam War in hope of finding Kim, who worked as a bar girl in former Saigon to help pay off family debts and whom Dan abandoned when she got pregnant. As these two searches converge, we learn Phong's and Kim's stories and see how Dan's views on his wartime experience have evolved: "It had taken him years of…reading to understand that he'd been sent to Viet Nam to save it from the Vietnamese, and saving it from the Vietnamese meant killing them. By the millions." Nguyen makes the suffering of the Vietnamese people during and after the war painfully real, while moving forward to reconciliation; toward the end, a key character wishes the regime would acknowledge "the human cost of the war on all sides." VERDICT Achingly honest and ultimately hopeful; essential reading for U.S. audiences.
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Review by Kirkus Book Review
An American GI, a Vietnamese woman, and an Amerasian man who grew up in an orphanage seek closure decades after the Vietnam War. Nguyễn's stirring if sometimes melodramatic second novel--following The Mountains Sing (2020)--braids three distinct experiences of war and trauma. Phong, mixed-race and certain he's the son of a Black U.S. soldier, strives to acquire an American visa for himself and his family in 2016 under the Amerasian Homecoming Act, but without solid proof, his request is denied. At the same time, Dan, a veteran, is visiting the country, not telling his wife, Linda, that he's hoping to find Kim, the Vietnamese woman he fell for while stationed there in 1969. The third thread looks back to that year and follows Kim--real name: Trang--as she and her sister, Quỳnh, head to Sài Gòn to work at a bar, chatting up soldiers to earn money to square their parents' debts. The setup--based on Nguyễn's dissertation research on Amerasian children of the Vietnam War--allows her to address various consequences of Americans' presence. Phong suffers lifelong poverty, anguish over his search for his father, and racism; the novel's title refers to one of many epithets flung his way. Trang is exploited, at times pressed into prostitution, and subjected to Dan's moods. Dan, for his part, is carrying guilt over his abandonment of Trang and from keeping the relationship a secret from Linda. Nguyễn writes with an intimate, detailed understanding of Vietnamese women's treatment during the war and the struggles of Amerasians seeking their parents in the present. The story's impact is blunted somewhat by her efforts to wrap the story up tidily and by stilted dialogue. ("We share a common history that bonds us together stronger than any blood ties.") But for a story spawned from academic research, it has the grace of a page-turner and sheds light on a neglected subject. A well-turned tale of broken families across continents and decades. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.