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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

    Jun 4, 2024, 336 pages


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Print Excerpt

"We learn nothing without our legends," she said to Hương.

Hương didn't tell her mother this, but she had wanted to be the one to wake her daughter and reveal the surprise—that the three of them were playing hooky, for the first time ever. Hương had traded shifts at the restaurant with a friend, and Minh had postponed her cleaning clients, feigning illness. Hương had even called the school and told them Ann had a dentist appointment. She didn't know what had possessed her to arrange the drive to the beach.

Perhaps it was seeing that family of three trooping into the Chinese restaurant where she worked a few days earlier. A man in Bermuda shorts, his wife in a sarong that clung tightly to her middle, and a girl around Ann's age, but tow-headed, her hair twisted in salt-crusted locks. They'd smelled of coconut and conviviality. When the father had turned to toss a fried wonton strip into the daughter's mouth, the mother had reached over and snagged it, popping it into her own mouth with a grin. The sight had hurt Hương deeply. Another reminder of the life she could not make for her child.

But the beach was free; the beach was for everyone. Hương wanted a day with her daughter, amid the languishing palms and the baking sand. A storybook day, the kind Ann used to read about in her picture books. She felt Ann was growing apart from her lately, her babyish features lengthening, the shadow of adulthood flickering across her brow. It was happening too fast.

But of course, Minh had decided to join them, and how could Hương say no, after everything her mother had done for them?

Then there was the fuss over the bathing suit. Ann wanted to wear her old orange suit, the neon one-piece with black piping, rubbed raw at the bottom from scraping herself along the concrete steps of the public pool, but Hương had gotten her a new one as a gift, pink and ruffled, fit for a princess. More expensive than she could afford, really. But Ann's brows had lowered when she held the suit. She did not consider herself a pink girl. Minh had finally stepped in, telling Hương that life was too short to fight over bathing suits. That's how it always went at the Banyan House. Minh decided what was worth caring about.

At the beach, Ann coughed, then found a stick. She wrote her name. She drew a bird in the sand. Hương noticed that it was a surprisingly good drawing for a kid—she'd captured the midmotion rise of the wings. Then Ann wrote her mother's and grandmother's names in a row. Their whole family, a chain in the sand. The wind blew over the uneven letters.

"Can I swim?" Ann asked.

Hương's breath caught. The ocean. So beautiful and unpredictable. It reminded her, in some ways, of Ann's father. In her mind, she saw the flash of an ashtray flying through the air. A muslin blanket falling too rapidly to the ground. There was no safety in the ocean, or in love. She wanted to keep her daughter on land. Plus, Ann didn't really swim. None of them did. They only waded in gingerly, hoping that gravity and common sense could keep their feet tucked into the undulating seafloor.

"No, con, the water is poisoned," Minh answered, saving Hương from having to reply.

"How do you know?" Ann asked.

"Just wait. The fish will start to wash up on the shore. Their rot will stink it up. We're lucky we got here before the tide got really bad."

"Ew," Ann squealed, delighted. "Rotting fish here, rotting fish there, rotting fish everywhere."

Hương hated to admit that sometimes her daughter annoyed her. There was such energy in her, and Hương was so tired.

They sat to eat bánh mì Minh had packed tight in layers of plastic cling wrap. Headcheese and pâté with sticks of carrot and daikon for the adults, and shredded chicken with sweet soy sauce for Ann. In a cleaned-out old yogurt container were thick slices of mango, dripping sweet and sticky. Ann went to feed her leftover crusts to the gulls, laughing as they tossed their heads to catch the missiles she threw at them.

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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