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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 26 reader reviews for The Mountains Sing
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Susan T. (Bahama, NC)

Timely in light of current events
I wasn't expecting to like this book as much as I did. It focuses on one extended family in Vietnam, alternating back and forth in time between the Land Reform in the 1940s and the Vietnam War and its aftermath in the 1970s. The themes revolve around war, fear and hatred, and family, love, mercy and forgiveness, and finally, survival. I learned much more about Vietnam history than I knew before, but more importantly, as a Westerner and an American, it shows a point of view from a different side. In the end, we are essentially all the same and we sometimes we react badly with hate and fear, and sometimes heroically, with love and forgiveness when our lives and way of living are threatened. I think this book highlights how alike people are regardless of which side of a war or government you fall. Perhaps if we could learn and remember that, maybe we would avoid the horrors of war more often.
Chris H. (Wauwatosa, WI)

The Mountains Sing
This is a wonderful book telling the multigenerational story of a Vietnamese family who lived in Vietnam during that war. It is so important to read about the experiences of a family whose own country is taken over by war. How did the Land Reform and Communist government affect them? How did the family have to adapt when they were forced out of their homes and villages? So many questions to ask and have answered. This book tells us about the Vietnam war in ways we could only imagine.
Power Reviewer
Claire M. (Sarasota, FL)

The War that No One Won
The American War in Viet Nam was devastating to a country that had been fighting for independence for almost ever. Nguyen Phan Que Mai tells the story of the war through the eyes of one family and in doing so she speaks for what it was like in the middle and the North, which was then falling to communist ideology. The experience in the South was different and much of the fighting was there. The Tran family had seen most of their men moved south to fight while they were being evicted from their home during the Land Reform and other acts under the new communist regime. But the real story here is the toughness and resilience of a people who had been forever colonialized or fighting for independence. Nguyen takes a broad stroke, describing how as Grandma relentlessly pushes north on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the dead bodies, the gangs of men she encounters, the starvation, the people who are indoctrinated ignore her because she is a capitalist trader, finally gets enough money and goes to reclaim each of her children whom she had to abandon on the journey. The stories of each shed light on what even the youngest endured to survive. Much of Grandma's story is told to her granddaughter Huong in the years near the war's end as some of the surviving children find their way home to mama.

I would recommend this book to be read in book clubs to open up discussion of what most Americans don't know about this war. Yes, it claimed 58,500 American soldiers, another 20,000 maimed and added Agent Orange and PTSD to our language; but it cost great division in this country and very little if any information about what the Vietnamese suffered and the extraordinary numbers of them killed and maimed.
Darlene G. (Allegany, NY)

Epic Perseverance
This book grew on me as I read. What I appreciated most about it was its success at reflecting the complexities (and horrors without gratuitous violence) of war and the effects that had on a specific family. I like that this was told from a Vietnamese viewpoint and over many decades, and I appreciated learning more about the history and the culture. There were times when I felt that the story was a little forced to ensure multiple dimensions of the situation were depicted, still it was a good and interesting read. I can easily imagine the grandmother as a real person; she did what she needed to do to keep her family alive.
Karen S. (Allston, MA)

Family and the civil war in Vietnam
It seems odd to note that a book about such painful events is "easy to read," but this poet, essayist and novelist tells her characters' story with clarity and beautiful language. Nguyen Phan Qu Mai protects the reader from the pain of her story more than some authors do when telling the story of civil war and family losses, as she focuses more on human resilience and kindness in the face of brutality.

I found one passage in the middle of the book that seemed to capture the intent of this novel as it blended the stories of a family and a country. Dieu Lan is telling her granddaughter, Huong, more family history: "We're forbidden to talk about the events that relate to past mistakes or the wrongdoing of those in power, for they give themselves the right to rewrite history. But you're old enough to know that history will write itself in people's memories, and as long as those memories live on, we can have faith that we can do better."

It was refreshing to read about the Vietnam war in a story where the Americans were a relatively minor backdrop to personal stories of a family torn apart by the civil war in Vietnam. The story covers a relatively long time span, providing a rich historical context. Read if you are interested in Vietnam from a Vietnamese writer's perspective.
Susanna K. (Oro Valley, US)

This heartwarming story was told by a grandmother and granddaughter. Encompassing 4 generations enduring the years of the Viet Nam crisis and the division between the North and South made living unbearable if not impossible. Through determination, faith and grandmother’s soothing songs they continued to persevere. At first it was bit confusing as the chapters jumped back and forth through the years. However once immersed in their lives the reader walked in their footsteps with love, hope and prayer.
Kay D. (Strongsville, OH)

Vietnam: A View from Inside
A sweeping novel covering most of the 20th century in the tiny country of Vietnam and its people who have endured a multitude of challenges. From the perspective of one family, a shared story from a Grandmother to her granddaughter brings to light the significant impact of the wars and other elements that targeted the country and its people.

As an American, I found this novel to be eye opening about a country and people beyond just the "Vietnam War" I knew about. A full bodied picture was presented, providing a depth of knowledge and emotion that was lacking in my previous thoughts of Vietnam. I highly recommend this novel.
Randi H. (Bronx, NY)

Engrossing family tale
Since visiting Vietnam prior to the U.S. establishing diplomatic relations with the country, I have been drawn to books that are set in the country. So I was quite excited to read The Mountains Sing. I very much enjoyed this look at the history of Vietnam in the 20th century, as told through the experiences of a girl and her grandmother. I found the perspectives of this North Vietnamese family especially fascinating, as so much of the literature has a pro-Western bent. My only quibble with the book was the alternating viewpoint chapters. I found it distracting for the first half of the book. I was unable to totally lose myself in the story when I had to figure out with each chapter what was going on and who the characters were again.

Nonetheless, I would absolutely recommend this book. Especially now, as both the U.S. and much of the world seem to be slipping into divisiveness, it's so important to remember another time in our past when such divisiveness reigned.

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The Mountains Sing
by Nguyen Phan Que Mai
Winner of the 2020 BookBrowse Debut Novel Award: A multi-generational tale set in Viet Nam.
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"Stunning.… A timely family saga with faith and forgiveness at its core."
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