Summary and book reviews of Le Colonial by Kien Nguyen

Le Colonial

By Kien Nguyen

Le Colonial
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  • Hardcover: Aug 2004,
    336 pages.

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Book Summary

A stunning epic of Asian history in the tradition of James Clavell, from the author of The Tapestries and The Unwanted.

Paris in the late 1700s. The France of Victor Hugo. This is the world that three men will leave behind as they embark on a mission of faith and passion in Annam, an exotic land in the Far East. And although they imagine that they will sail into the harbors peacefully and bring hope and meaning into the lives of the faithless, what they discover when they arrive is civil war, warlords on horseback, floods, and famine. In a hostile new world, these three men - François Gervaise, a handsome painter; Henri Monange, a young runaway; and Pierre de Béhaine, a charismatic priest - discover that although they have come to convert the heathens, it is their own hearts and souls that are changed forever. Their dreams of colonial glory dashed, they must reinvent the meaning of their journey.

Drawing from a richly layered history and based loosely on the life of Pierre de Béhaine, Le Colonial is an unforgettable and romantic epic. A shimmering tapestry of swords and silk, it explores faith, passion, and the perils of ambition.

CHAPTER ONE

Avignon, France, 1771

The brush was a hickory twig, its end hammered into a soft, pointed fringe. The painter drew it across the canvas, tracing a long stroke of cobalt blue - the light of predawn. Another dash, a smear, a twist of the bristles, and a cluster of areca palms silhouetted the horizon. The only movement was a blur of wind across a colony of stars.

It was the first day of winter. The inside of the church was so cold that he could see his breath in the candlelight. The painting was a rectangle of oils on sheepskin, stretched on a wooden frame. Its image resembled nothing of the splendor and immensity of the surrounding medieval architecture but was cast in the bold colors of his imagination. Hanging by cords over his wool coat was a collection of curios - fragments of broken clay pots, pinecones, a metal goblet, clumps of feathers, a bird's wing. The rest of his belongings ...

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Reviews

Media Reviews
Library Journal - Barbara Hoffert

In his second novel, the Vietnamese-born Nguyen delivers a rich, satisfying tale that goes just beyond the typical historical saga to raise interesting questions of faith and culture while instructing us in the history of a country with which we were once at war. Recommended for most collections. 

Kirkus Reviews

An intriguing epic of ethical, moral, and spiritual conflicts from an emerging talent worth watching. 

Publishers Weekly

Nguyen maintains the impressive period detail that made his first novel, The Tapestries, so compelling, but his narrative is much sharper this time around, with the story drawing energy from the contrast between the characters' various agendas, particularly the constant clashes between Gervaise and Béhaine. Nguyen's take on the meeting of East and West is intelligent, heady and memorable.

The New Yorker

Nguyen's first novel, The Tapestries, followed the long silk thread of his Vietnamese family's history (his grandfather was a court embroiderer) against a background of strife, oppression, and social change. Here he reaches further back into Vietnam's history it is 1773, the country is called Annam, and three French missionaries, financed by the French government, set off to convert the Annamese to Christianity. The trio are confronted by relentless horrors—executions, pillage, starvation—which challenge their religious faith. The violence of the story is sometimes at odds with the author's penchant for poetic description, which is more suited to quieter interludes, as when a character walking along the coast of the South China Sea watches as the sun bloomed like a red dahlia, petals ablaze.

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