The Mountains Sing
Nguyen Phan Que Mai
Winner of the Blogger’s Book Prize, 2021
‘An epic account of Viet Nam’s painful 20th-century history, both vast in scope and intimate in its telling… Moving and riveting.’ Viet Thanh Nguyen, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Sympathizer
Selected as a Best Book of 2020 by NB Magazine * BookBrowse * Buzz Magazine * NPR * Washington Independent Review of Books * Real Simple * She Reads * A Hindu’s View * Thoughts from a Page
One family, two generations of women and a war that will change their lives forever
Ha Noi, 1972. As war breaks out in Viet Nam, twelve-year-old Huong clings to her grandmother in an improvised shelter as American bombs fall around them. For her grandmother, the experience is horribly familiar. This is a woman who knows what it takes to hold a family together as a country crumbles. And now, coming of age in a nation rocked by conflict, Huong must do the same.
With the epic sweep of Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko and the haunting beauty of Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, The Mountains Sing tells the enveloping, multigenerational tale of the Tran family, intimate, lyrical and bursting with life.
‘The Mountains Sing is an epic account of Viet Nam’s painful 20th century history, both vast in scope and intimate in its telling. Through the travails of one family, Nguyen Phan Que Mai brings us close to the horrors of famine, war, and class struggle. But in this moving and riveting novel, she also shows us a post-war Viet Nam, a country of hope and renewal, home to a people who have never given up.’ * Viet Thanh Nguyen, Pulitzer Prizewinning author of The Sympathizer * ‘A Vietnamese poet conjures history and fate in a luminous tale that resonates across generations as one family grapples with the psychic residue of war.’ * O, The Oprah Magazine * ‘A luminous, complex family narrative… Que Mai [has] an astute and graceful ability to sustain contradictory truths about war, displacement, aesthetic representations, and human nature… The Mountains Sing affirms the individual’s right to think, read, and act according to a code of intuitive civility, borne out of Vietnam’s fertile and compassionate cultural heritage.’ * NPR * ‘A mesmerizing, devastating, searing and utterly authentic and deeply human novel. Cannot recommend highly enough!’ * Lynn Novick, co-producer of The Vietnam War documentary * ‘There are many ways to read The Mountains Sing: as history transformed into epic fiction; as war story; as family saga of love and hate, division and potential salvation[…] One of the things that makes The Mountains Sing a very good novel – rather than just a good one – is how Que Mai infuses this candour with genuine humanity… A terrifying, melancholic and achingly beautiful first novel.’ * South China Morning Post * ‘A sweeping story that positions Vietnamese life within the rich and luminous history of national epics like The Tale of Kieu and The Iliad. Expansive in scope and feeling, The Mountains Sing is a feat of hope, an unflinchingly felt inquiry into the past, with the courageous storytelling of the present.’ * Ocean Vuong, author of On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous * ‘Lyrical, wrenching, sometimes painful to read, but ultimately glorious in affirming the resilience of the human spirit. In these traumatic times in which we are facing hard times as a global community as well as a nation, it is life-affirming to be reminded that many in our human family have endured difficult histories before and come through with kindness, kindredness, love, hope, and wonderful novels that will make your heart – as well as the mountains – sing!’ * Julia Alvarez, author of Afterlife * ‘Devastating… From the French and Japanese occupations to the Indochina wars, The Great Hunger, land reform and the Vietnam War, it’s a story of resilience, determination, family and hope in a country blighted by pain.’ * Refinery29, ‘Best New Books, August 2020’ * ‘Nguyen Phan Que Mai’s sweeping tale proves on every page that despite war-time tragedies and numbing ugliness, the human desire to forgive and thrive soars as high as the mountains.’ * Thanhha Lai, National Book Award-winning author of Inside Out and Back Again * ‘The Mountains Sing is a testament to love that explores the inescapable ways in which history binds itself to us and how the process of unravelling our traumas is a generational feat of strength and wisdom… With poetic prose, Nguyen Phan Que Mai crafts a striking tale of human resolve which confronts complex questions.’ * Book Riot, Best Books of 2020 * ‘[An] absorbing, stirring novel… Que Mai contains her saga with a poet’s discipline, crafting spare and unsparing sentences, and uplifts it with a poet’s antenna for beauty in the most desolate circumstances. She evokes the landscape hauntingly, as a site of loss so profound it assumes the quality of fable.’ * New York Times Book Review * ‘A comprehensive multigenerational tale, beginning in 1920s Vietnam and continuing through modern wartime. However, the larger history takes a back seat to family dynamics, demonstrating how different generations weather the burdens of conflict.’ * The Washington Post * ‘Nguyen writes of Vietnamese history with such understanding and humanity that one can easily argue for The Mountains Sing’s status as the great Vietnamese novel of our time.’ * DiaCRITICS * ‘This multigenerational tale chronicles the Tra n family as a Vietnamese woman visits Hanoi and reflects on the life lessons shared by her late grandmother.’ * USA Today, ‘Five Books Not to Miss’ * ‘A sweeping tale of one family’s shifting fortunes in Vietnam across half a century… Invitingly and gracefully told… A richly imagined story of severed bonds amid conflict.’ * Kirkus, starred review * ‘[A] lyrical, sweeping debut novel… Nguyen brilliantly explores the boundary between what a writer shares with the world and what remains between family. This brilliant, unsparing love letter to Vietnam will move readers.’ * Publishers Weekly, starred review * ‘At turns lyrical and harrowing, The Mountains Sing is a poignant work of historical fiction, an ode to Mai’s ancestors and experiences that lay bare a history long forgotten (and neglected) in the wider world – an essential novel for readers looking to uncover the truth of Viet Nam.’
* Paperback Paris, Best Books of 2020 * ‘An engrossing story of family, adversity, war, loss, and triumph… Recalling Min Jin Lee and Lisa See, Nguyen displays a lush and captivating storyteller’s gift as she effortlessly transports readers to another world, leaving them wishing for more.’ * Library Journal, starred review * ‘A historical novel that portrays Vietnamese strength in the face of adversity… I came away at the end of the book with a new appreciation for the courage and resourcefulness of the Vietnamese.’ * Washington Independent Review of Books * ‘Good literature frees us from being trapped in our own skins by allowing us to identify with characters and see the world through their eyes. Reading this novel, I was moved by Nguyen Phan Que Mai’s beautiful, even poetic, depictions of enduring courage. I came away with a deeper understanding of the war in which I fought.’ * Karl Marlantes, bestselling author of Matterhorn and Deep River * ‘Widely published in Vietnamese, poet, nonfiction writer, and translator Nguyen Phan Que Mai’s first novel in English balances the unrelenting devastation of war with redemptive moments of surprising humanity.’ * Booklist * ‘Many English-language novels about Vietnam focus on the years when Americans fought there, but this multi-generation familial saga goes decades further back.’ * Los Angeles Times * ‘Que Mai tells the story of the war that tore apart Viet Nam, and of the generation lost to the war, by braiding around it two beautiful strands told by the older and younger generations of a family. This book is an act of love, compassion, and ultimately healing, and very much needed by all who survived the war.’ * Thi Bui, author of The Best We Could Do * ‘A panoramic epic… Like the work of Duong Thu Huong, who deserves the Nobel one day, this book brings to life a crucial part of Vietnamese history from within. Your heart will not leave this book untouched.’ * Literary Hub * ‘Epic in scope, and a celebration of the human spirit, The Mountains Sing is a story you won’t soon forget.’ * PopSugar, 25 of the Best New Books to Add to Your Reading List This Spring * ‘Nguyen Phan Que Mai has written a wonderful, intricate story of the lives of a Vietnamese family trying to make it through generations of war. The Mountains Sing is a beautiful story of the simple challenge of keeping a family together and the courage of perseverance. It is told with the sureness of a master storyteller with a poet’s spirit. A large and complicated story, marvellous to read.’ * Larry Heinemann, National Book Award-winning author of Paco’s Story * ‘In this moving family saga, author Que Mai gives us a rare glimpse into the lives of ordinary North Vietnamese as they struggle to survive the calamities that descend over their country – from the Japanese occupation during World War II, to the harsh and ideological rule of the communists, to the American bombing of the North, and to the shocks and aftershocks of the Vietnam War. It is a story of loss and sorrow, of longing for peace and normalcy, and-above all-of the triumph of hope over despair, told in the authentic voices of a resilient and resourceful grandmother and her granddaughter.’ * Mai Elliott, author of The Sacred Willow: Four Generations in the Life of a Vietnamese Family * ‘Over the last two decades we have been gifted with works by Vietnamese writers who have brought us into the consciousness of those that Americans saw only as backdrops for their own stories. Nguyen Phan Que Mai not only adds to that rich body of work, she daringly transcends it.’ * Wayne Karlin, author of Wandering Souls * ‘In The Mountains Sing, Nguyen Phan Que Mai has found a true and clear voice in English that is rich and compelling the way only those who come to English as a second language can sometimes manage.’ * Bruce Weigl, author of bestselling memoir The Circle of Hanh * ‘A poignant and vivid portrayal of a brutal slice of Vietnamese history from a perspective that is so rarely heard abroad: that of the Vietnamese themselves. We are starkly reminded of how those wars-and wars everywhere-wash over and drown both the guilty and innocent alike.’ * Doreen Baingana, author of Tropical Fish: Stories out of Entebbe * ‘Fascinating… Que Mai is an acclaimed Vietnamese poet, and her vivid images, along with the simplicity of her prose, make the novel propulsive and haunting in its depiction of a deep, nuanced landscape.’ * BookPage * ‘This is a love letter, told honestly and poignantly, to the Vietnamese people, an homage to their dedication to remembrance, during and after a painful time.’ * The Arts Fuse * ‘A Vietnamese family’s song resounds over the effects of decades of tumult in Nguyen Phan Que Mai’s excellent novel, The Mountains Sing.’ * Popmatters * ‘A beautiful evocation of a lost world.’ * Paris Review of Books * ‘A poignant English debut – a gripping portrait of Viet Nam folded between a generational tale of love, loss, and above all else, the will to survive. Honest, alluring and hopeful, The Mountains Sing is a stunning work of historical fiction that lays bare history long forgotten; an essential novel for readers looking to uncover the truth of Viet Nam.’ * Paperback Paris * ‘Beautiful, heartbreaking and utterly essential.’ * Saigoneer Bookshelf * ‘Generations of a Vietnamese family grapple with the legacy of violence, colonialism and war as a woman tells her childhood history to her granddaughter during the Vietnam War. This is the first book that Que Mai, a celebrated Vietnamese poet, has written in English.’ * New York Times, 13 Books to Watch For in March * ‘While I have finished Tran’s story, the book will stay with me for a very long time.’ * She Reads * ‘Stunning…filled with vivid characters and evocative depictions of the Vietnamese landscapes, both urban and rural… There’s an important Vietnam War history lesson embedded here, as well, one that is not often available to American readers.’ * Vietnam Veterans of America * ‘Inspired by real life events, Nguyen Phan Que Mai’s story will thrill, shock and terrify the reader in equal measure. It will also inspire them with its life-affirming qualities of everyday heroism and survival against all the odds.’ * Philip Caveney, author of Sebastian Darke, Alec Devlin and Movie Maniacs novels * ‘A multigenerational epic about a family torn apart by war and the efforts of its various members to survive… Nguyen’s poetic descriptions and deep affection for her characters allow the reader to feel for the Tran family’s many vicissitudes.’ * Minneapolis Star Tribune * ‘Whether conscious or not Que Mai has spoken for generations outside of Vietnam, millions upon millions of people bombed out, put underground, forced to flee and desperate to live.’ * CounterPunch * ‘A vast, epic historical novel set against the backdrop of the Viet Nam conflict through the eyes of the people themselves.’ * Ms. Magazine * ‘The structure is clever, the writing often evocative, the characters convincing and very touching and the whole narrative deeply engaging. And this is a first novel! Impressive.’ * Sara Maitland, author of Daughter of Jerusalem, winner of the Somerset Maugham Award * ‘This poetic novel illustrates how their sacrifices ripple through [a] family.’ * The Nerd Daily * ‘The story is buoyed, too, by the family’s extraordinary resilience… The flow of the writing and the story brings you onto a wave of hope.’ * Pittsburgh Post Gazette * ‘Nguyen Phan Que Mai traces a half a century of Vietnam’s history through the stories of Tran Dieu Lan, who loses her livelihood during the 1950s land reform, and her granddaughter Huong, who comes of age in the 1970s during the Vietnam War. This poetic novel illustrates how their sacrifices ripple through the family.’ * Real Simple, ‘What to Read Next’ * ‘It is in some ways, I would say, the Vietnamese version of The Grapes of Wrath, because it’s describing this time period in Vietnamese history that’s deeply traumatic, and yet also poorly understood, and in many ways is a time period that completely contradicted how the North Vietnamese and the Communist Party saw themselves.’ * Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of The Sympathizer *
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