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Reading guide for The Mountains Sing by Nguyen Phan Que Mai

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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
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2020, 352 pages

    Paperback:
    Mar 2021, 368 pages

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Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!

Download the complete book club kit which contains the author's letter to the reader, discussion questions, author's essay about her writing journey, a historical timeline, the Trần family tree, as well as a playlist of Vietnamese music.

Also recommended: 13 Questions With Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai

  1. There are many major historical events featured in the novel. How much did you know about these events before you read The Mountains Sing? Did the story show you a new side to any events you were already familiar with?
  2. Many of the characters in The Mountains Sing experience terrible things, and some of them must make difficult choices. Each of them handles their experiences differently. The Sơn ca helps Hương on her journey. What other objects, mem-ories, people, or conversations help each character to endure and recover?
  3. How does Grandma Diệu Lan help her children after their return? What might her relationships with her children reveal about family relationships in Việt Nam?
  4. War stories are often told from a male perspective. In The Mountains Sing, Hương and Grandma Diệu Lan take turns narrating their stories. How might the novel differ if it had male narrators? Why do you think the author chose to have women and girls tell the story instead?
  5. Which character did you feel the most sympathetic toward? The least? Is that different from which character you like the most and least, and if so, why?
  6. "I was determined to sing on. I learned then that as long as I have my voice, I am still alive," says Grandma Diệu Lan. Give examples of music and poetry that are represented in the novel. How important do you think music and poetry are in the Vietnamese culture? How important are they in your own culture?
  7. In addition to descriptions of war and pain, The Mountains Sing features many descriptions of gorgeous landscapes, interesting city sights, and delicious foods. Were there any locations that you would like to visit or have visited? Any foods you would like to try or have tried?
  8. According to Hương, proverbs are the essence of Vietnamese wisdom, passed orally from one generation to the next, even before the written Vietnamese language existed. Two examples are Trong cái rủi có cái may (Good luck hides inside bad luck) and Ác giả ác báo (Cruelty dispensed, cruelty returned). Do these proverbs ring true for you? Were there other proverbs that resonated with you as particularly true or meaningful?
  9. In The Mountains Sing, Vietnamese names and words appear with their full diacritical marks. For Vietnamese speakers, these marks are necessary to interpret meaning : for example, the words ma, mả, má, mà, mạ, and mã all have separate meanings (ghost, grave, mother, but, young rice plant, and horse, respectively). Nonetheless, it is unusual for an American novel to include the marks. Did their inclusion affect your reading experience? How?
  10. Hương thinks that if people are willing to learn about other cultures, there will be no war on earth. Do you think Hương feels differently about America and American people because of her reading? What books have made your world bigger?
  11. Grandma says, "If our stories survive, we will not die, even when our bodies are no longer here on this earth." The Mountains Sing is inspired by some of the experiences of the author's family. What stories from your own family can be written into a novel? Do you know of any fictional stories that remind you of your own family story?
  12. Had you previously read other books from or about Việt Nam? How is the Việt Nam portrayed in The Mountains Sing similar to or different from the Việt Nam you already knew?


Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Algonquin Books. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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