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Read advance reader review of Banyan Moon by Thao Thai, page 2 of 5

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Banyan Moon

A Novel

by Thao Thai

Banyan Moon by Thao Thai X
Banyan Moon by Thao Thai
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jun 2023, 336 pages

    Jun 4, 2024, 336 pages


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  • Lee L. (Los Angeles, CA)
    Beautifully written and poignant!
    I've been reading quite a few new releases the last couple of months and while many of those I enjoyed immensely (majority have been 4 and 4.5 star reads thankfully), I had yet to come across one that I could truly categorize as a 5 star level "this book blew me away" type read (so far this year, I've rated 2 books 5 stars, but both were backlist reads). Well, heading into summer reading season, I'm happy to report that I've finally come across my first 5 star read among the plentiful 2023 new releases — Thao Thai's spectacular debut novel Banyan Moon (scheduled for publication in June).

    There was so much to unpack with this book, I'm honestly not sure where to begin. Perhaps the best place to start would be what attracted me to this book in the first place — as soon as I read the premise, especially the following last paragraph, I knew that this was a book I abs had to read: Spanning decades and continents, from 1960s Vietnam to the wild swamplands of the Florida coast, Banyan Moon is a stunning and deeply moving story of mothers and daughters, the things we inherit, and the lives we choose to make out of that inheritance."

    First of all, I love sweeping family sagas, but in particular, I'm drawn to stories about mother/daughter relationships. Part of the reason I gravitate toward these types of stories is because I have a complicated relationship with my own mother, so I'm constantly on the lookout for books that explore this — particularly between Asian mothers and daughters, as there are usually familiar cultural dynamics involved that inform these relationships, which can hopefully help me make sense of my own.

    To be honest, reading this book was like a gut punch for me because I resonated so deeply with each of the 3 main characters — Minh (grandmother and family matriarch), Huong (Minh's daughter and Ann's mother), and Ann (Minh's granddaughter, Huong's daughter, and herself about to become a mother) — and the various misunderstandings and disagreements that defined their relationship with each other. I understood Ann's feeling of being adrift and floating and not really knowing what she wanted to do with her life, only that she wanted to escape from the perpetual tension that always existed when she was in her mother's presence. I also understood Huong's feelings of inadequacy — both as a mother and as a daughter — and feeling like she had no choice but to resign herself to a life that reflected what others wanted rather than what she actually wanted. And yes, I also understood Minh's struggle, why she became the overbearing force to be reckoned with in the family, and what necessitated her urge to protect her granddaughter at all costs. So many of the dynamics that were at play between these three women felt so familiar to me, as they reflected some of my experiences and struggles with my own family over the years: for instance: the inability to communicate our true feelings no matter how hard we try, and then being bogged down by endless guilt and regret that never truly goes away; the resentment and hurt built up from a lifetime of letting fear and desperation dictate our words and actions, resulting in us saying things to each other that we may not really mean, but that end up dealing irreparable damage to our relationships; and for me, this one was the most poignant and heartbreaking — the constant struggle with understanding the different ways to love someone and the impossibility of choosing a "right" or "wrong" way to love (especially where family is concerned). As an indication of how deeply this story resonated with me — during various points as I was reading, I actually had to set the book down in order to wipe away tears that seemed to appear of their own accord.

    Another thing that blew me away with this book was the writing. I love beautiful prose and this one definitely had plenty of it! When I read fiction, I tend to read straight through without marking up any passages because I don't want to break up the flow of the story, but in this instance, I couldn't help myself — some of the passages, in articulating the complexities of the relationship between the 3 generations of Tran women, also described my own feelings so precisely that I just had to mark them for rereading and reflection later.

    One other thing I wanted to mention is the format of the narrative, which, except for the first chapter, alternated between the perspectives of Minh, Huong, and Ann, both in the present day as well as going back to the past. This format was powerful, I felt, as juxtaposing the three women's stories in this way not only helped us see how each navigated her role as daughters (which is important because of how much these experiences shaped their future roles as mothers), but it also helped us to see how similar some of their motivations were, yet how differently their lives turned out based on the choices they made.

    As I mentioned earlier, there is a lot to unpack with this one and the above only touches upon a few of my initial thoughts about certain aspects of the story that resonated with me, which of course only scratches the surface of what this book is about. This is why I'm so glad that one of my book clubs chose this as a monthly read, as I now have an excuse to go back and reread this in preparation for the discussion. Definitely looking forward to it!

    Received ARC from Mariner Books via BookBrowse First Impressions program.
  • Juli B. (Prosper, TX)
    Adding to Book Club List of Selections
    Thank you BookBrowse for the opportunity to review this spectacular upcoming debut publication by Thao Thai. From the beginning chapters I found myself immediately wanting to share the storyline with both my book clubs. Definitely want to engage my bookish friends in discussion over the choices made by Minh, Huang, and Ann; three generations of strong women connected by family culture and secrets that bind each to the other despite fierce independent spirits. Will time bring a sense of understanding and redemption once secrets are revealed? One can only hope. Minh reflects "there is freedom in imperfection. To know and love another's flaws," but is Ann capable of resisting the resentment of not being told the whole truth during her beloved grandmother's lifetime? The symbolism of the banyan is integral to the familial plot as this species of tree is venerated in Hinduism for its ability to live for centuries and is considered safe shelter as roots grow down from branches to anchor the tree strongly to the earth. Can Ann create the foundation needed to lead an independent, resilient life and provide for the next generation while still honoring her Vietnamese ancestral heritage? Perhaps the author will revisit this family for our reading benefit in time as she is clearly talented at writing a concise and meaningful tale that will resonate with families despite various cultural backgrounds. My only suggestion is a pronunciation guide for the many beautiful Vietnamese names and words throughout the text.
  • Anke V. (Portland, OR)
    BANYAN MOON, Thao Thai
    This is a multi-generational story narrated by Minh (grandmother), Huong (daughter), and Ann (granddaughter). The story begins with Minh's death followed by Ann's return to her grandmother's decrepit house situated next to a Banyan tree, where she reconnects with her mother. It is in this house, full of keepsakes and secrets that we learn about their own stories of love, connections and pushbacks, contrasting how the different generations made their parent-child dynamics as well as mother-partner choices. We learn about Minh's time in Vietnam and her close relationship with Ann, Huong's relationships with men and her estranged daughter, Ann's pregnancy and her rocky relationship with her rich boyfriend and old friends. As Ann and Huong spend more time together, they reassess their relationships and goals in life, and begin to realize how truly they love each other. Thai's writing is descriptive, beautiful, heartfelt and piercing!
  • Susan S. (Salida, CO)
    Displaced Vietnamese women cope
    Banyan Moon explores three generations of women of Vietnamese origin and their discoveries, loves and lives. It is poignant and direct, inventive, and introspective. It takes place from the perspective of each woman, in Vietnam, in Florida and elsewhere, across the times of each. With the author providing only tangential clues along the way, it also reads like a mystery, looking for connections and intersections between the lives of the women. Relationships exist that struggle to survive despite seemingly unsurmountable odds, generational gaps, cultural wars. I was particularly intrigued by the insights the author provided about war-time Vietnam from the viewpoint of the common resident, trying to maintain a normal life under the stress of multi-year war and strive.

    For a book club with multiple generational members, it might spark conversations about family, the Vietnam war, women in times of extreme stress, coping in adversity and other hot topics. For the individual reader, getting drawn into the lives of each of these women was intriguing, thought-provoking, and insightful.
  • Sheila Silverman - Sacramento, CA
    Banyan Moon by Thoa Thai
    This is a captivating tale of 3 generations of Vietnamese-American women. spanning two continents and encompassing the years just before and during the American War (known to us as the Vietnam War. ). This beautifully written debut novel begins with the death of the matriarch, Minh, and reflects upon the relationships between herself, her daughter, Huong, and her beloved granddaughter, Ann.

    The novel unfolds when Ann, as an adult with a promising future returns to her ancestral home, the crumbling house in the shadow of a large banyan tree (hence the title) for her Grandmother's funeral. Here she is confronted with the strained relationship which has long existed with her mother, Huong. "They have run out of things to say a long time ago."

    The author reveals episodes in the lives of all three women, a tangle of emotions portraying the love, loss, regrets, secrets, misunderstandings and things which can never be repaired.

    The ending is satisfying, but not predictable. The tale is filled with beautiful imagery and sprinkled with some old-world superstitions and wisdom, including a Vietnamese folktale about the "Man in the moon", which has been passed down through the generations.

    Banyan Moon is one of the most poignant, heartwarming books I have read in quite a while.
  • Candace F
    Better Than 5 Stars
    I loved this book! I wish I could give it 10 stars.

    This poignant story spans 3 generations of strong women, the Vietnamese Tran family comprised of mother, daughter and granddaughter. They weather complicated family relationships and family secrets.

    I loved each character and loved the way Thoa Thai developed each character literally and metaphorically. I really liked the way she went back and forth from each character weaving a intense story of all the emotions humans deal with in life, love, hate, fear and hope.

    Thao has a very definite writing style. She has her story and makes the characters and settings come alive. She totally engages the reader.

    The different and difficult love stories of these three women were believable and heartbreaking. It isn't a neatly, happily ever after read.

    I especially liked the folktale of the legend of Chu Choi and the similarity of Banyan Moon.

    I hope this debut novel will be the first of many to come from Thao Thai. For me this was the best read of the year!
  • Joane W. (Berlin, MD)
    Banyon Moon
    I really enjoyed this book. It centers around 3 women in a familial relationship. I think the main protagonist is the matriarch who is the grandmother. Her daughter and her granddaughter revolve around her. The mother daughter relationship is one of hate and love. When the grandmother dies, lives change for the mother and daughter. At the crux of this is the Banyon House. It's where the secrets are discovered and decisions made. The prose is wonderful and the description invite you into their world.

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