Banyan Moon: Book summary and reviews of Banyan Moon by Thao Thai

Banyan Moon

A Novel

by Thao Thai

Banyan Moon by Thao Thai X
Banyan Moon by Thao Thai
Buy This Book

About this book

Book Summary

A sweeping, evocative debut novel following three generations of Vietnamese American women reeling from the death of their matriarch, revealing the family's inherited burdens, buried secrets, and unlikely love stories.

When Ann Tran gets the call that her fiercely beloved grandmother, Minh, has passed away, her life is already at a crossroads. In the years since she's last seen Minh, Ann has built a seemingly perfect life—a beautiful lake house, a charming professor boyfriend, and invites to elegant parties that bubble over with champagne and good taste—but it all crumbles with one positive pregnancy test. With both her relationship and carefully planned future now in question, Ann returns home to Florida to face her estranged mother, Huơng.

Back in Florida, Huơng is simultaneously mourning her mother and resenting her for having the relationship with Ann that she never did. Then Ann and Huơng learn that Minh has left them both the Banyan House, the crumbling old manor that was Ann's childhood home, in all its strange, Gothic glory. Under the same roof for the first time in years, mother and daughter must face the simmering questions of their past and their uncertain futures, while trying to rebuild their relationship without the one person who's always held them together.

Running parallel to this is Minh's story, as she goes from a lovestruck teenager living in the shadow of the Vietnam War to a determined young mother immigrating to America in search of a better life for her children. And when Ann makes a shocking discovery in the Banyan House's attic, long-buried secrets come to light as it becomes clear how decisions Minh made in her youth affected the rest of her life—and beyond.

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.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!


Media Reviews

"A riveting mother-daughter tale spanning two different timelines, and anchored by the magnetic pull of a Gothic home known as the Banyan House, Banyan Moon is author Thao Thai's beautiful debut." —Elle, Best Books of 2023

"A beautifully written, page-turning novel that explores the traumatic legacy of war, the complexity of cultural assimilation, and the intimacy of family conflict with fierce grace and psychological acuity. Banyan Moon is a celebration of life in all its forms and a joy to read." —Christina Baker Kline, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Exiles

"Heart-shatteringly beautiful. Banyan Moon is a love letter to keepers of secrets, to motherhood, family and survival. Thao Thai is a major talent whose exciting, impressive, and poetic prose will grow into you, like a strong and lush banyan tree deeply rooted in the rich Vietnamese literary heritage." —Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai, internationally bestselling author of The Mountains Sing and Dust Child

"Tender, gripping and heartbreaking. A haunting page turner that reexamines lineage, motherhood, and what it means to be a survivor—in every definition of the word. A welcome debut from a stunning voice who will forever impact the Vietnamese American canon." —Carolyn Huynh, author of The Fortunes of Jaded Women

"Banyan Moon offers an honest and aching exploration of the gulf between generations—how we misunderstand those we love the most, the unintentional hurt we cause them, how we struggle to find the language to connect. But it's also a novel of hope, a story of forgiveness, a reminder that even though we can never fully know the people closest to us, it is worth the try." —Tracey Lien, internationally bestselling author of All That's Left Unsaid

"Banyan Moon is an intricately woven story of three generations of women, surviving and living each in their own way. This novel has everything you want: desire, betrayal, grit, tenderness, pride, love, and--most deliciously, most brazenly--the dirty secrets and sacred secrets we make and keep to protect what we hold dear." —Meng Jin, author of Little Gods and Self-Portrait with Ghost

"Thao Thai captures the complexities of familial love with an unflinching, yet gorgeously lyric, eye. Banyan Moon is an ambitious and masterful debut!" —Stacey Swann, author of Olympus, Texas

"Thao Thai pierces the veil between the living and the dead in this haunted and beautifully rendered debut. This is a story about mothers and daughters, the chasm where misunderstandings accrue, and enduring tenderness despite the little hurts we may inflict on our loved ones. Most affectingly, Thai gives us characters who mourn lost origins, but who still get to decide what home looks like. A spellbinding and intricately layered story, Banyan Moon celebrates Vietnamese women." —E.M. Tran, author of Daughters of the New Year

This information about Banyan Moon was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

Write your own review

Darlene B. (New Castle, PA)

The Banyan Tree and a Kumquat
"Not all stories have to be neat. Some can be messy and unfinished"

'Banyan Moon' is a fantastic debut novel by Thao Thai. A multi-generational story which spans decades , this story is told by three strong, stubborn, fiercely loyal and loving Vietnamese- American women.. Minh, Huong and Ann.

The novel begins with the death of Minh, the matriarch of the family. Minh's death sets off a crisis for the two remaining women - Huong and Ann- who return to the family homestead , the Banyan House, in the swampy wetlands of Florida. This family saga is told alternately by each of the three women and moves backward and forward through time. And what made this book even more enjoyable to me is that the reader is aware throughout the story of the women's secrets and family complexities... even when the women themselves were not always aware.

I love complicated, messy family stories which play out over decades and this novel did not disappoint. The characters were wonderfully complex... strong and loyal and even infuriatingly secretive and frustrating. The Banyan House itself was also a compelling character in this story. The house, a huge, old Gothic structure, which seemed to be falling down was also a source of strength for the women who had found shelter within its walls.

I loved everything about this novel and would highly recommend it to other readers!

Suzanne G. (Tucson, AZ)

This is a great book! I felt it could go on forever and I wouldn't mind a bit. The story is so well written the interacting characters seemed to become real and ready to tell us more secrets. Thao Thai is an author to be followed; her novel is heartwarming and written with love and loyalty to her characters. Banyan Moon has been recommended to anyone who asks what recent book I've read.

Milda S. (Warwick, NY)

Secrets Under the Banyan Moon
Banyan Moon by Thao Thai is a spellbinding story of three women: grandmother, mother and daughter, who survived the Vietnam War. They presently live together in a run-down mansion in Florida under a Banyan tree in the Everglades. A house that Grandmother Minh purchased.

Each of the women's lives have been shaped by the impact of historic, political and individual events and have underlying similarities. There is friction between the three and as we continue reading we begin to understand each women's point of view.

The writing is magical in letting us into each women's thoughts as they seek to find their way. When Grandmother dies, Ann comes back and she and her mother try to reconnect. Ann finally shares her secret with her mother, changing the course of their lives.

I recommend Banyan Moon by Thao Thai for its sensitive way of confronting multigenerational issues, the resilience of immigrants, survival instincts, and other universal themes. This is a book that will make you think about the wonder of life and all its possibilities.

Theresa P. (Arkport, NY)

Mothers and daughters
What a powerfully written story. Three generations of women, and the powerful relationships they share—sometimes strong and sometimes less.
The oldest starts the story in Vietnam, and then moves their future to Florida, where they grow through the years, in a home to the side of a banyan tree. The mother daughter relationships are so powerful, so real—sometimes so beautifully woven and other times so devastatingly fragile—that the book's power was a vital force. Love, racism, trust, abuse, strength, and weakness are threads that weave into the lives of these three women, in a compelling narrative.
A first class read, meriting a second read as a book club choice. The title and camo colors on the cover almost made me pass this read by. Glad I didn't. It was worth every page! Thank you for allowing the advance read!

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.

Betty T. (Warner Robins, GA)

Beautiful story of women coping
I often find myself drawn to multi-generational family stories. "Banyan Moon" immediately drew me right into the lives of three generations of Vietnamese women – Minh, the grandmother; Huong, the daughter; and Ann, the granddaughter.

The story opens with the death of Minh. Ann, born in the US and living in California, returns to her crumbling childhood home in Florida, a home with an old banyan tree growing at its side. Ann now must reconnect with her estranged mother. Unknown to her mother, Ann's seemingly perfect life in California is in question after she discovers she is pregnant.

Minh's narratives are set in Vietnam and follow her life as a teenager during the Vietnam War and follow her as she flees to the US in search of a better life for her children. The love between Minh and Ann was beautiful, and my heart warmed at their interactions.

"Banyan Moon" is an emotional character-driven story. The story is told in alternating perspectives of the three strong-willed women. It runs the gamut of emotions with its tale of losses, regrets, secrets, heartbreak, and, ultimately, love.

The best part of the story for me was how Ann and Huong had to re-examine their past together and realize how much they do love each other.

Thai uses beautiful imagery throughout the book, especially involving the banyan tree.

If you are a fan of Nguyen Phan Que Mai, I recommend you give this book a try.

...27 more reader reviews

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Author Information

Thao Thai

Thao Thai is a writer living in Ohio with her husband and daughter. Her work engages with tangled family relationships and the intersections of motherhood and identity. She's been published in Cup of Jo, Eater, Catapult, Sunday Long Read, and more. A recipient of the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, she has also been nominated for multiple Pushcart Prizes and earned fellowships in creative writing. She received her MFA from The Ohio State University and her MA from The University of Chicago.

More Author Information

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

More Recommendations

Readers Also Browsed . . .

more literary fiction...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Become a Member

Join BookBrowse today to start discovering exceptional books!

Find out more

Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Red Memory
    Red Memory
    by Tania Branigan
    Tania Branigan's Red Memory is an astounding and often harrowing study of Mao's China. A lead writer...
  • Book Jacket: The Postcard
    The Postcard
    by Anne Berest
    Anne Berest's The Postcard — with an elegant translation from the French by Tina Cover &...
  • Book Jacket
    by Jennifer Saint
    Few cultures in history mastered the art of tragedy quite like the ancient Greeks. And very few ...
  • Book Jacket: Salvage This World
    Salvage This World
    by Michael Farris Smith
    In the near-future universe of Michael Farris Smith's Salvage This World, life-threatening ...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
The First Conspiracy
by Brad Meltzer & Josh Mensch
A remarkable and previously untold piece of American history—the secret plot to kill George Washington

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Little Italian Hotel
    by Phaedra Patrick

    Sunny, tender and brimming with charm, The Little Italian Hotel explores marriage, identity and reclaiming the present moment.

Win This Book
Win Girlfriend on Mars

30 Copies to Give Away!

A funny and poignant debut novel that skewers billionaire-funded space travel in a love story of interplanetary proportions.



Solve this clue:

Y S M Back A I'll S Y

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.