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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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Somewhere after the sandwiches, Hương's mood shifted, and she began to settle into Ann's reflected glee. She smiled at the sight of Ann prancing in the sand, her gangly body silhouetted by the hazy sun behind her. Something about that joy—unselfconscious and spontaneous—whispered a half-cogent sense of familiarity to Hương. Maybe she had once been that girl too.

"It's a nice day," Minh said, placatingly. "This was a good idea."

Hương was pleased at the compliment from her mother.

Ann tucked herself on the mat, and Hương, flushed with shyness, said, "Tell me about school, Ann."

And to Hương's surprise, Ann released a flurry of words that reminded Hương of a piñata breaking open, scattering the ground with the choicest sweets. It was nice to sit alongside her daughter, hearing her babble about school and friends, the plot of a chapter book about teenagers abandoned on an island. At the Banyan House, there were so many rooms that sometimes she felt she saw little of her daughter. They could too easily escape into their own corners. Time sifted quickly through her day. At night, before Hương knew it, Ann was asleep, and she was alone again, hearing the odd chime of the grandfather clock, staring at the ornate flowers pressed into the wallpaper. Nighttime was when she felt most alone.

Now, watching Ann, Hương was forced to admit she did not quite know her daughter. It wasn't a surprising thought, but it did trouble her. She had made a lot of mistakes in her life. "Mistakes" was an understatement. She couldn't afford to make another one.

"Come here, Ann," she said, beckoning.

She sat Ann in front of her, then splayed her legs open, making a moat around her daughter. With deft hands, she French braided Ann's long, shiny hair, looping it around and around into impossible twists. She didn't have a hair band, so she left the ends loose.

"You are a mermaid," Hương said.

"Again!" Ann demanded. She toed the sand.

So Hương took apart the braid and did it again, and again, pausing every now and then to tuck a strand behind her daughter's ear. Little Ann with the rosebud lips and long lashes, the upturned eyes that were an unexpected light brown, the color of crema on top of espresso. So gorgeous that even as a baby, strangers would gasp over her. They would tell Hương to enter her in baby beauty pageants. "For the exotic factor," they'd smile, as if bestowing a great compliment.

"You have such soft hair," Hương said.

"It's the same color as yours, Mẹ," Ann answered.

Minh, her own hair short and well threaded with iron, looked them over, gently and tenderly. For once, it was as it should have been. Hương and her daughter, wrapped up in each other, and Minh in the background, watching. Doting from a distance, as a grandmother should.

Minh broke the spell by standing and brushing the sand from her lap. "I'm going to go find a bathroom."

After the last braid, Hương let Ann's hair fall over her shoulder. There was a slight flush to Ann's cheeks. She coughed again.

Hương said, "Should we go home? The red tide is getting stronger."

"Five more minutes," Ann pleaded.

Hương sat back on the blanket and closed her eyes, listening to Ann humming a lullaby, something odd and anachronistic, the off-key notes slowly dulling against the pounding of the surf.

Let the birds sing, dilly, dilly

And the lambs play

We shall be safe, dilly, dilly

Out of harm's way

Hương was drifting into the water, at one with the algae bloom, her skin darkening to fuchsia, her hair falling in great big clumps. She was a neon whale, sluggish yet spectacular, the only one of her kind. For once, she felt calm, swept up in inevitability.

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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