“An epic account of Việt Nam’s painful 20th century history, both vast in scope and intimate in its telling . . . Moving and riveting.” —VIET THANH NGUYEN, author of The Sympathizer, winner of the Pulitzer Prize
With the epic sweep of Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko or Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing and the lyrical beauty of Vaddey Ratner’s In the Shadow of the Banyan, The Mountains Sing tells an enveloping, multigenerational tale of the Trần family, set against the backdrop of the Việt Nam War. Trần Diệu Lan, who was born in 1920, was forced to flee her family farm with her six children during the Land Reform as the Communist government rose in the North. Years later in Hà Nội, her young granddaughter, Hương, comes of age as her parents and uncles head off down the Hồ Chí Minh Trail to fight in a conflict that tore not just her beloved country, but her family apart.
Vivid, gripping, and steeped in the language and traditions of Việt Nam, The Mountains Sing brings to life the human costs of this conflict from the point of view of the Vietnamese people themselves, while showing us the true power of kindness and hope.
The Mountains Sing is celebrated Vietnamese poet Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’s first novel in English.
“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 Reviews, starred review
“[A] lyrical, sweeping debut novel . . .Nguyễn 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
"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
"Balances the unrelenting devastation of war with redemptive moments of surprising humanity."
“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
“The Mountains Sing is an epic account of Việt Nam’s painful 20th century history, both vast in scope and intimate in its telling. Through the travails of one family, Nguyễn Phan Quế 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 postwar Việt Nam, a country of hope and renewal, home to a people who have never given up.”
—Viet Thanh Nguyen, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of The Sympathizer
“Nguyễn Phan Quế 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. An essential read for Vietnamese and Vietnamese-Americans searching to understand their grandparents and parents who lived through the war in Việt Nam.”
—Thanhhà Lai, National Book Award-winning author of Inside Out & Back Again and Butterfly Yellow
“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 Nguyễn Phan Quế 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, What It’s Like to Go to War,and Deep River
“Quế Mai tells the story of the war that tore apart Việt 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
“Nguyễn Phan Quế 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, marvelous to read.”
—Larry Heinemann, author of Paco's Story, winner of the National Book Award
“In this moving family saga, author Quế 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, Pulitzer-Prize finalist and 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. Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai not only adds to that rich body of work, she daringly transcends it.”
—Wayne Karlin, author of Wandering Souls, winner of the Vietnam Veterans of America Excellence in the Arts Award
“In The Mountains Sing, Nguyễn Phan Quế 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, Pulitzer Prize finalist and author of the 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
“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
“Inspired by real life events, Nguyễn Phan Quế 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
“Deep human bonds of family, place, and memory are written of in ways that are often heartbreaking, but show the strength and persistence of those ties. This is a book that glows with spirit and those larger life forces that include love. I look forward to the day I can put this book in readers' hands.”
—Rick Simonson, Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle
Born into the Viet Nam War in 1973, Nguyen Phan Que Mai grew up witnessing the war’s devastation and its aftermath. 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. She has been honored with many awards, including the Poetry of the Year 2010 Award from the Ha Noi Writers Association, as well as many grants and fellowships. Married to a European diplomat, Que Mai is currently living in Jakarta with her two teenage children. For more information about Nguyen Phan Que Mai, visit her at www.nguyenphanquemai.com.