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Excerpt from Banyan Moon by Thao Thai, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Banyan Moon

A Novel

by Thao Thai

Banyan Moon by Thao Thai X
Banyan Moon by Thao Thai
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2023, 336 pages

    Paperback:
    Jun 4, 2024, 336 pages

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Chapter 1

1998

At first, there was no sign of the red tide, except for a tightness in their throats as they picked their way through dune grass that bristled against their legs. Three shades of brown, three sets of stalks, wild as the vegetation prowling along the coast. Ann, seven years old and dying to run down to the surf, reached down to scratch her ankle, but her mother, Hương, pulled her up, in a silent hurry, though there was no appointment to make, no work to rush to that day. A rare day of repose for the Tran women, and one that each measured with her own internal expectation, none of which overlapped. The morning was still, if portentous.

"You're so slow, con," Hương said. "Little lost turtle."

It was hard to tell if she was teasing. Hương's voice shouldered an edge, something related to sarcasm, though Ann will never be able to pinpoint exactly what, even years later when she is an adult.

Ann peered up at her mother until she saw the shadow of a smile. Really just a pull of Hương's lips, drawn out like a concession. Ann let herself relax when her mother took her hand, smoothing her thumb over Ann's knuckles.

As the three of them tracked through the shell-pebbled gray sand, their noses began to twitch, an unfamiliar push of sinuses against their skulls. The red tide hit them then. They coughed, then hid their coughs from each other, trying to smile against the thrash of a March wind, a product of the unseasonable cold front this time of year.

Ann's grandmother Minh, Hương's mother, led the way. Her gait was purposeful, but pinched. There was something dry and dangerous about her, like flint meeting flint. She wore wide-legged trousers in eggplant and a button-down shirt that covered her arms entirely, except for a sliver of wrist, shaded exactly like sun-warmed hay. All that morning, she couldn't shake a faint prickle of dissatisfaction, though she could not name its source. It was her way to listen for signs.

"The water looks like a sunset," Ann cried, pointing.

The red tide shook out in front of them like a scarf. Delicately, a fuchsia-mixed-with-orange bloom spread from the edge of the shoreline, into the deep blue of the Gulf of Mexico. The dance of colors was manic, hallucinatory. Each wondered, privately, what it would be like to bathe in the algae-dredged water, to feel the sunset on your limbs, washing through you. No one else was on the shoreline that day.

"Not a good day for the beach," Minh observed.

"I didn't know about the tide," Hương said, a touch of whine in her voice. "How could I have known?"

"It's okay, con," Minh told her daughter. An awkward pat on the shoulder.

Hương threw up her hands. "Should we leave, then?"

Ann scrunched her face, the beginning of her temper showing through. Most of the time, she was obedient, but when she roared, they listened. Her power was quiet and sure, as yet unclaimed but wedged deep nonetheless. It unnerved them all, to see her face darken so, especially Hương, who saw in it a shadow of warning.

Minh laughed, a sound scraped from the pit of her belly. "Okay, my lion cub. We'll stay for a little bit."

Hương laid down their makeshift blanket, an old dirty-blue bedsheet they had found in one of the many linen closets of the Banyan House. She sat sullenly, watching as Minh spread sunscreen on Ann's bony arms, up onto the ridge of her nose and in the shallow dips under her dark, watching eyes. The day had not gone the way Hương intended, starting that morning, when she woke and found Ann in Minh's room, the two of them gasping over one of the ridiculous Vietnamese folktales Minh liked to tell, the ones that made Ann squirm against reality for days afterward, unable to resettle in their life. Those stories were too scary for a young child, but Minh never listened.

Excerpted from Banyan Moon by Thao Thai. Copyright © 2023 by Thao Thai. Excerpted by permission of Mariner Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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