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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

Then she opened her eyes. There was no humming. There was no Ann.

She pushed up from the blanket and began to cough hard. It felt like there were two iron rods in her nose, thrust up behind her eyes. Her throat was on fire. She called her daughter's name.

"Ann! Ann!"

When her feet hit the sand, she slipped a little, and reached out a hand to catch her fall. Her wrist ached. The gulls were so loud, their cries drowning out hers. She scanned the beach, but there was no one. How far could a little girl go? How long had she been sleeping?

"Come out, Ann. Right now. I will spank you!" she said. She'd never hit Ann before, but thought, wildly, that the mention of violence might pull someone closer. As if it ever could.

She looked to the red-tide-scummed ocean. No, Ann wouldn't. Ann was only ever allowed to wade in to her ankles. Hương took a breath and moved close to the water's surface, looking for a break in the waves. She took her shoes off, ready to dive in.

Once more, with despair this time: "Ann! Please."

"What's wrong now?" Minh asked, emerging onto the sand, though her quick eyes took in everything.

"Ann is lost."

"You lost her?" Minh asked. The rephrasing was not lost on Hương.

"We don't have time for this, Mẹ!"

They resumed calling Ann's name, running down to the water to scan the waves, now dark and opaque. The red tide made their throats hoarse. Hương wished she had never suggested they drive to the beach. They should have stayed in the Banyan House, cloaked in that stifling silence, but safe. At least safe.

When Hương thought her heart might combust, when she felt the hot push of tears at the edges of her eyes, when she wanted to dive into the ocean, sweep its floor with her bare hands to find her daughter, she heard a small giggle in the distance. Minh started toward the sound, but Hương was faster. She sprinted to her daughter and hauled her out from behind a thick fan of dune grass. At first, Ann was grinning, but when she saw her mother's face, her smile dropped. Her eyes widened.

"What the hell is wrong with you?" Hương demanded.

"Hương," Minh said warningly.

"Are you stupid, Ann? Scaring me like that?" Hương's voice was deadly and quiet; no longer panicked, but cold, colder than the sea.

Her hand tightened around Ann's arm, like one of those Velcroed bands for taking blood pressure. She didn't realize how hard she was squeezing until Ann cried out.

"That hurts," she said.

"Let go of her," Minh said. She was beside them, extricating Ann. Rubbing her arm, where Hương's grip had left red ladyfinger marks. "Are you okay, con?"

Hương laughed, humorlessly. "Is she okay?"

"Enough," Minh said sharply.

Ann was crying outright now against her grandmother's shoulder. Hiccupping her explanation. She'd seen the hiding place in the dune grass, and it had reminded her of a castle, where you could see everything through the gaps between the fronds, but no one could see you. A secret place. She thought she would play a trick on them. She was just about to hop out. Surprise! she would say.

"I'm sorry, Bà Ngoại," she sobbed. "I didn't mean to be bad."

"I know, con, I know," Minh whispered, her brusque voice softening in the way it only did for Ann. "You did scare us, though. The world isn't a safe place."

Hương breathed deeply, but the red tide got into her lungs, and she choked, pulling Ann's reproachful attention to her. She started toward her daughter, but when she saw Ann flinch, her hand dropped. She felt like crying, too.

"Let's go home," she said instead, turning away from them so they couldn't see her biting her own hand, trying not to weep in front of them. Motherhood was so lonely sometimes.

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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