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The Mountains Sing: Book summary and reviews of The Mountains Sing by Nguyen Phan Que Mai

The Mountains Sing

by Nguyen Phan Que Mai

The Mountains Sing by Nguyen Phan Que Mai X
The Mountains Sing by Nguyen Phan Que Mai
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  • Publishes in USA 
    Mar 17, 2020
    352 pages
    Genre: Novels

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About this book

Book Summary

The Mountains Sing tells an enveloping, multigenerational tale of the Trần family, set against the backdrop of the Việt Nam War. "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.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"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

"A sweeping story that positions Vietnamese life within the ​rich and luminous history of national epics like The Tale of Kiều 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, MacArthur award winner and author of On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous

"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

The information about The Mountains Sing shown above was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's online-magazine that keeps our members abreast of notable and high-profile books publishing in the coming weeks. In most cases, the reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author of this book and feel that the reviews shown do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, please send us a message with the mainstream media reviews that you would like to see added.

Reader Reviews

Write your own review

Mary B. (St Paul, MN)

The Mountains Sing
Beautifully written, but heart wrenching saga of a Vietnamese family through several generations. The story touches on human's inhumanity to others, but also the enduring hope and resiliency of family and friends. Nguy?n Phan's story is about the history of the Vietnamese people and their struggles through very turbulent times. Nguy?n Phan's weaves the story through several people and periods of time and it flows beautifully. I highly recommend the book!

M Kassapa

The Vietnam War in Full View
This gorgeously written novel explores four generations of a Vietnamese family impacted by the Vietnam War. Mai focuses on all aspects of policy as well as repercussions of this war: Land Reform, the war, the destruction, death, anger, grief, loss of life and limb, loss of confidence and sanity. We all also are invited to experience the strength of family, the generosity, kindness, resilience, and forgiveness. The book is a kaleidoscope of the earthquake that is war, touching on the intense pain, poverty, and finding personal redemption in the recognition of the toll that survival sometimes costs.

Liz D. (East Falmouth, MA)

The Mountains Sing
Nguyen Phan Que Mai's book The Mountains Sing is a story that sings. The story of the Tran family who live in the turbulent era of change in North Viet Nam between the 1940s to present day. Told by Tran Dieu Lan to her granddaughter Huong the story spans the years beginning with the Great Hunger, a time of severe famine, the Communist Land Reform, where the family lost their land holdings, to the Viet Nam War and its aftermath. Through all this strife Tran Dieu Lan fights valorously to be the rock keeping her family together.

The story was an eyeopener for me never having heard the Viet Nam story from the point of view of the North Vietnamese. They struggled heroically to keep their way of life and their country whole in the face of incredibly bad odds forced on them by foreign powers.

The Tran family's courage and resilience is breathtaking and makes one appreciate the freedoms we so much for granted. The book is one I will happily read again for the storytelling, the language and the unforgettable characters. Wonderful Book!

Travel Books and Movies

Prepare Yourself for this Must Read
I have spent time in Vietnam (both North and South). I knew Vietnam had a long storied past. I knew there were challenges in Vietnam's history I hadn't been taught in school. I knew the Vietnamese were strong people.

So, I thought I was ready for this book...I wasn't.

The Mountains Sing is a heart-wrenching novel tracing a portion of Vietnam's history through the stories of Dieu Lan, her granddaughter, Huong (called Guava), and their families. (Fortunately, there's a family tree in the front to help track family members as you read.)

Despite the heavy topics, it's a fast read--the characters are well-developed and you care about their stories. (I finished the book in two sittings--mostly because I needed to take a mental break.)

Vietnam's history comes to life through the personal stories--stories of struggle through the Great Hunger, Land Reform, what Westerners know as the Vietnam War, and other moments in Vietnam's past. Scenery--small villages, mountains, jungles, and big cities--are easily envisioned through the descriptions. And cultural lessons are sprinkled throughout--proverbs, superstitions, meanings of Vietnamese words and names.

I finished this book a few days ago and haven't quite been able to let it go. The Mountains Sing is a meaningful piece of historical fiction--one that is meant to be shared, discussed, and learned from.

Cindy B. (Waukee, IA)

The Mountains Sing
The reader embarks on a journey through 70 years of Vietnam's turbulent political history. The story is about four generations of the Tran family and told through the eyes of a grandmother and her granddaughter. The reader follows the Tran family through times of wealth, poverty, famine, political unrest and war. The words are beautifully written with the promise of hope for the future, the strength of family ties and the power of forgiveness guiding the story. A great book for anyone who enjoys historical fiction, would like to learn more about Vietnam or is in a book club!

Ora J. (Anacortes, WA)

The Mountains Sing
With power and poetry, Nguyen Phan Que Mai guided me onto lands and into cultures I had never before experienced. Her power was wielded by an excellent use of English, her second language. Poetry flowed from her Grandmother's songs and stories. The lives of three generations, revealed through the voices of grandmother and granddaughter, unfold in the turmoil of never-ending war. Her fresh imagery reflects a constant dependence on the earth for survival, passed down through generations of farmers.

Nguyen Phan invited me in to meet her people, to experience their joy, suffer their pain and understand their struggle to keep the dream of cultural survival alive. Wave after wave of community reorganization swept families caught in the currents of violence and cruelty from north to south and back again. The story covers time and events from 1930 to 1980 but not in chronological order. The time changes are clearly designated and further reflect the total disruption of life that took place, during the twentieth century, in Vietnam.

...17 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Nguyen Phan Que Mai Author Biography

Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai (family name Nguyễn Phan, given name Quế Mai) was born in a small village in the North of Việt Nam in 1973, Quế Mai migrated with her family to the Mekong Delta, South of Việt Nam when she was six years old. Thanks to her academic achievements, in 1993, Quế Mai received a scholarship from the Australian government to study in Australia for four years. Upon her return to Việt Nam, Quế Mai worked for several international organizations, including UN agencies, to foster Việt Nam's sustainable development. She has a Masters in Creative Writing with the UK's Lancaster University and is a Honorary Fellow in Writing of Hong Kong Baptist University.

Quế Mai has been honored with the Poetry of the Year...

... Full Biography
Link to Nguyen Phan Que Mai's Website

Name Pronunciation
Nguyen Phan Que Mai:

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