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The Mountains Sing

by Nguyen Phan Que Mai

The Mountains Sing by Nguyen Phan Que Mai X
The Mountains Sing by Nguyen Phan Que Mai
  • Critics' Opinion:

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  • First Published:
    Mar 2020, 352 pages
    Mar 2021, 368 pages


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There are currently 27 reader reviews for The Mountains Sing
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Betty Taylor

Beautifully written saga
It seems almost sacrilegious to say this is a beautifully written book while the content is about two violent periods of Vietnam’s history. Even though surrounded by violence, respectfulness and gentleness could still be found among the people of Vietnam. This is a story of human endurance, family, loyalty, hope, and the strength of the women.

“If our stories survive, we will not die, even when our bodies are no longer here on earth.” Thus, this story follows two timelines, one of Tran Dieu Lan as a young woman during the time of the Land Reform movement of the mid-twentieth century, and the other is told from the perspective of Guava, Tran Dieu Lan’s granddaughter after the Vietnamese War that involved the US soldiers.

While I was mostly untouched by the Vietnam war, many around me were not. While I am aware of the trauma the returning American soldiers suffered, I never really thought about the Vietnamese soldiers. It was interesting reading about the division of North and South Vietnam and the impact it had on the people there. The timeline involving the Land Reform reminded me of the book “In the Shadow of the Banyan” which I enjoyed immensely.

The author’s short essay at the end of the book was very informational. I am so impressed that she wrote this book while learning the English language!

To Make the Mountains Sing
Nguyen Phan Que Mai's novel, The Mountains Sing, is a masterful work: the writing is smooth, educational, and full of emotion.

Although I was in college during the Vietnam War, I have to say that I knew very little about it. Fellow students were in an uproar, and members of the Chicago Seven were our new celebrities.

Mai's book filled in multiple gaps in my background. She provides the political facts and the human information suffered by so many. I was completely enthralled with the story.

Although many painful episodes were described, I could not ever stop reading. Mai's writing was so interesting, so factual, and the story she told was completely gripping.

The intensely brave grandmother was one to whom tribute was owed; what a role model!

At times, I did not necessarily want too many good things to happen (I do not like sweet stories); still I was glad that they occasionally did occur.

I highly recommend this book--most of us do not know enough about the Vietnam saga. This book is first-rate!
Lynne Lambert

The Human Side of War
Viet Nam is a country that knows too well about the subjugation of foreign powers and war. The French, Japanese, and Americans, as well as political factions within their own borders have all taken a toll on the Vietnamese people. The novel The Mountains Sing by Nguyan Phan Que Mai looks at all of these conflicts on a human scale. The novel traces the effects on one family of Japanese and French subjugation, the Viet Nam War, the Land Reform initiated by the Communists and the famine known as The Great Hunger. It lovingly illustrates the relationship between a grandmother and her granddaughter , the love between parents and children, between siblings and young lovers. The background is exotic and fragrant, tumultuous and often violent. The trials and tribulations of the Lan family are a testament to determination, courage, family, friendship and an homage to the importance of a common humanity. Early in the novel, the narrator, Huang, sees a downed American pilot being paraded and attacked as a POW. Her thoughts reflect the tone of the novel. “As the crowd followed him, shouting and screaming, I shuddered, wondering what would happen to my parents if they faced their enemy.” All of the characters, without exception, face hard choices and extreme consequences. Somehow, they manage to hold on to their humanity and hope. Not everyone is rewarded for their sacrifices and moral compass. However, for those who are, sharing their journeys makes the novel not only satisfying but educational and uplifting. Based on stories of her own family, the author reminds us, “If our stories survive, we will not die.”

Unforgettable characters and lyrical prose!
I was overcome with emotion at how profoundly moving I found The Mountains Sing by Nguyen Phan Que Mai. Lyrical prose filled with images that will forever change how I view lives so vastly different than my own. I always viewed the tragedy of the Vietnam war through the lens of American losses...until now. The compelling multi-generational story of the Tran family is beautifully written with two unforgettable heroines, Huong Tran and her grandmother Died Lan and spans from 1920-1970's. I highly recommend what has turned out to be my favorite read in 2020. Actually, I am getting ready to reread so I can facilitate this novel in our Zoom book club in November.
Mary B. (St Paul, MN)

The Mountains Sing
Beautifully written, but heart wrenching saga of a Vietnamese family through several generations. The story touches on human's inhumanity to others, but also the enduring hope and resiliency of family and friends. Nguy?n Phan's story is about the history of the Vietnamese people and their struggles through very turbulent times. Nguy?n Phan's weaves the story through several people and periods of time and it flows beautifully. I highly recommend the book!
M Kassapa

The Vietnam War in Full View
This gorgeously written novel explores four generations of a Vietnamese family impacted by the Vietnam War. Mai focuses on all aspects of policy as well as repercussions of this war: Land Reform, the war, the destruction, death, anger, grief, loss of life and limb, loss of confidence and sanity. We all also are invited to experience the strength of family, the generosity, kindness, resilience, and forgiveness. The book is a kaleidoscope of the earthquake that is war, touching on the intense pain, poverty, and finding personal redemption in the recognition of the toll that survival sometimes costs.
Liz D. (East Falmouth, MA)

The Mountains Sing
Nguyen Phan Que Mai's book The Mountains Sing is a story that sings. The story of the Tran family who live in the turbulent era of change in North Viet Nam between the 1940s to present day. Told by Tran Dieu Lan to her granddaughter Huong the story spans the years beginning with the Great Hunger, a time of severe famine, the Communist Land Reform, where the family lost their land holdings, to the Viet Nam War and its aftermath. Through all this strife Tran Dieu Lan fights valorously to be the rock keeping her family together.

The story was an eyeopener for me never having heard the Viet Nam story from the point of view of the North Vietnamese. They struggled heroically to keep their way of life and their country whole in the face of incredibly bad odds forced on them by foreign powers.

The Tran family's courage and resilience is breathtaking and makes one appreciate the freedoms we so much for granted. The book is one I will happily read again for the storytelling, the language and the unforgettable characters. Wonderful Book!
Travel Books and Movies

Prepare Yourself for this Must Read
I have spent time in Vietnam (both North and South). I knew Vietnam had a long storied past. I knew there were challenges in Vietnam's history I hadn't been taught in school. I knew the Vietnamese were strong people.

So, I thought I was ready for this book...I wasn't.

The Mountains Sing is a heart-wrenching novel tracing a portion of Vietnam's history through the stories of Dieu Lan, her granddaughter, Huong (called Guava), and their families. (Fortunately, there's a family tree in the front to help track family members as you read.)

Despite the heavy topics, it's a fast read--the characters are well-developed and you care about their stories. (I finished the book in two sittings--mostly because I needed to take a mental break.)

Vietnam's history comes to life through the personal stories--stories of struggle through the Great Hunger, Land Reform, what Westerners know as the Vietnam War, and other moments in Vietnam's past. Scenery--small villages, mountains, jungles, and big cities--are easily envisioned through the descriptions. And cultural lessons are sprinkled throughout--proverbs, superstitions, meanings of Vietnamese words and names.

I finished this book a few days ago and haven't quite been able to let it go. The Mountains Sing is a meaningful piece of historical fiction--one that is meant to be shared, discussed, and learned from.

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