Reviews of Banyan Moon by Thao Thai

Banyan Moon

A Novel

by Thao Thai

Banyan Moon by Thao Thai X
Banyan Moon by Thao Thai
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  • Published:
    Jun 2023, 336 pages


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Book Summary

A sweeping, evocative debut novel following three generations of Vietnamese American women reeling from the death of their matriarch, revealing the family's inherited burdens, buried secrets, and unlikely love stories.

When Ann Tran gets the call that her fiercely beloved grandmother, Minh, has passed away, her life is already at a crossroads. In the years since she's last seen Minh, Ann has built a seemingly perfect life—a beautiful lake house, a charming professor boyfriend, and invites to elegant parties that bubble over with champagne and good taste—but it all crumbles with one positive pregnancy test. With both her relationship and carefully planned future now in question, Ann returns home to Florida to face her estranged mother, Huơng.

Back in Florida, Huơng is simultaneously mourning her mother and resenting her for having the relationship with Ann that she never did. Then Ann and Huơng learn that Minh has left them both the Banyan House, the crumbling old manor that was Ann's childhood home, in all its strange, Gothic glory. Under the same roof for the first time in years, mother and daughter must face the simmering questions of their past and their uncertain futures, while trying to rebuild their relationship without the one person who's always held them together.

Running parallel to this is Minh's story, as she goes from a lovestruck teenager living in the shadow of the Vietnam War to a determined young mother immigrating to America in search of a better life for her children. And when Ann makes a shocking discovery in the Banyan House's attic, long-buried secrets come to light as it becomes clear how decisions Minh made in her youth affected the rest of her life—and beyond.

Spanning decades and continents, from 1960s Vietnam to the wild swamplands of the Florida coast, Banyan Moon is a stunning and deeply moving story of mothers and daughters, the things we inherit, and the lives we choose to make out of that inheritance.

Chapter 1


At first, there was no sign of the red tide, except for a tightness in their throats as they picked their way through dune grass that bristled against their legs. Three shades of brown, three sets of stalks, wild as the vegetation prowling along the coast. Ann, seven years old and dying to run down to the surf, reached down to scratch her ankle, but her mother, Hương, pulled her up, in a silent hurry, though there was no appointment to make, no work to rush to that day. A rare day of repose for the Tran women, and one that each measured with her own internal expectation, none of which overlapped. The morning was still, if portentous.

"You're so slow, con," Hương said. "Little lost turtle."

It was hard to tell if she was teasing. Hương's voice shouldered an edge, something related to sarcasm, though Ann will never be able to pinpoint exactly what, even years later when she is an adult.

Ann peered up at her mother until she saw the ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!
  1. The story of Chú Cuội has been passed down through the Tran family and holds special significance to them. How does this legend relate to the Tran women, and why does it resonate with them so deeply? Are there any folk tales or stories that were passed down through your family?
  2. How do Minh, Hương, and Ann each show their love for their family members? How do their ways of showing love differ and how are they similar?
  3. Of the three Tran women, was there one you related to most?
  4. When Ann returns home, she rebuilds her relationships with Wes and Crystal. How have their relationships changed over the years, and in what ways do they fall back into similar patterns? Have you had a similar experience with your high school ...
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BookBrowse Review


I loved each character and the way Thao Thai develops them literally and metaphorically. I really liked the way she goes back and forth from each, weaving an intense story of all the emotions humans deal with in life: love, hate, fear and hope. She makes the characters and settings come alive and totally engages the reader (Candace F). The mother-daughter relationships are so powerful, so real—sometimes so beautifully woven and other times so devastatingly fragile—that the book's power was a vital force (Theresa P). Banyan Moon is one of the most poignant, heartwarming books I have read in quite a while (Sheila S)...continued

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Media Reviews

Elle, Best Books of 2023
A riveting mother-daughter tale spanning two different timelines, and anchored by the magnetic pull of a Gothic home known as the Banyan House, Banyan Moon is author Thao Thai's beautiful debut.
A sweeping, multifaceted story of legacy, grief and, above all, love — especially the kind that doesn't look the way you expect. ... Banyan Moon reads like an instant classic that no doubt will be passed from mother to daughter and beyond. This perfect book club read will stick with you for a very long time.

Library Journal (starred review)
Readers who savor many unexpected twists and a surprising conclusion will be rewarded.

New York Times Book Review by Kayla Maiuri
Pleasurably atmospheric. ... Banyan Moon is strongest when exploring the unique blend of contempt and fury that can exist between mothers and daughters. ... The story's maneuvering through time and space provides a roundness to the Tran women, allowing readers to see aspects of, and similarities between, each character that they keep from one another. ... Banyan Moon urges readers to consider whether it is best for some truths to remain hidden — whether deceit can ultimately be an act of love.

Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star
A true joy to read. ... Perfect for fans of Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club. ... Incredibly absorbing.

Kirkus Reviews
Thai deftly dissects the touchiness of strained mother-daughter relationships in a surprise-filled narrative that ranges from 1960s Vietnam to present-day Florida.

Publishers Weekly
There's no shortage of multigenerational family narratives out there, and this one really stands out from the pack.

Real Simple
The complex dynamic between the women in Thao Thai's Banyan Moon—grandmother, mother, and daughter— is so realistic, you'd swear the novel was a memoir.

Southern Review of Books
The characters are well-drawn and mysterious, and, as each chapter unfolds, their secrets become more engaging. ... With elements of magical realism and the Southern Gothic in a multiple narrator format, Banyan Moon provides a reading experience that is both familiar and inventive, making it perfect for summer reading. Many different readers will find points of interest in the Tran women and their stories, and the mysterious moments will generate plenty of discussion among the book clubs who are sure to take up this novel.

The Messenger
Through a rich exploration of mother-daughter relationships and the complexities of inheritance, Banyan Moon weaves together a poignant tale set across different time periods and locations. Recommended for fans of Burnt Sugar and The Joy Luck Club.

Washington Post
Poetic, often radiant. … An intimate account of one family's planting of roots in American soil and the sacrifices great and small that each member makes along the way.

Author Blurb Carolyn Huynh, author of The Fortunes of Jaded Women
Tender, gripping and heartbreaking. A haunting page turner that reexamines lineage, motherhood, and what it means to be a survivor—in every definition of the word. A welcome debut from a stunning voice who will forever impact the Vietnamese American canon.

Author Blurb Christina Baker Kline, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Exiles
A beautifully written, page-turning novel that explores the traumatic legacy of war, the complexity of cultural assimilation, and the intimacy of family conflict with fierce grace and psychological acuity. Banyan Moon is a celebration of life in all its forms and a joy to read.

Author Blurb E.M. Tran, author of Daughters of the New Year
Thao Thai pierces the veil between the living and the dead in this haunted and beautifully rendered debut. This is a story about mothers and daughters, the chasm where misunderstandings accrue, and enduring tenderness despite the little hurts we may inflict on our loved ones. Most affectingly, Thai gives us characters who mourn lost origins, but who still get to decide what home looks like. A spellbinding and intricately layered story, Banyan Moon celebrates Vietnamese women.

Author Blurb Meng Jin, author of Little Gods and Self-Portrait with Ghost
Banyan Moon is an intricately woven story of three generations of women, surviving and living each in their own way. This novel has everything you want: desire, betrayal, grit, tenderness, pride, love, and--most deliciously, most brazenly--the dirty secrets and sacred secrets we make and keep to protect what we hold dear.

Author Blurb Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai, internationally bestselling author of The Mountains Sing and Dust Child
Heart-shatteringly beautiful. Banyan Moon is a love letter to keepers of secrets, to motherhood, family and survival. Thao Thai is a major talent whose exciting, impressive, and poetic prose will grow into you, like a strong and lush banyan tree deeply rooted in the rich Vietnamese literary heritage.

Author Blurb Stacey Swann, author of Olympus, Texas
Thao Thai captures the complexities of familial love with an unflinching, yet gorgeously lyric, eye. Banyan Moon is an ambitious and masterful debut!

Author Blurb Tracey Lien, internationally bestselling author of All That's Left Unsaid
Banyan Moon offers an honest and aching exploration of the gulf between generations—how we misunderstand those we love the most, the unintentional hurt we cause them, how we struggle to find the language to connect. But it's also a novel of hope, a story of forgiveness, a reminder that even though we can never fully know the people closest to us, it is worth the try.

Reader Reviews


BANYAN MOON, by Thao Thai
In Thao Thai’s debut novel, “Banyan Moon,” Huong Tran, one of the story’s protagonists, confides, “After years of living with my mother, her prudishness and stingy love caging me tight, I longed desperately for something free, something that felt ...   Read More
Pamela K. (Churchville, NY)

Banyan Moon a novel of secrets and saviors
At times, when reading this novel, Banyan Moon by Thao Thai, you think the story is primarily focused on the setting, specifically Banyan House. The home originally acquired by Minh becomes a sanctuary for not only herself but also her daughter Huong...   Read More
Darlene B. (New Castle, PA)

The Banyan Tree and a Kumquat
"Not all stories have to be neat. Some can be messy and unfinished" 'Banyan Moon' is a fantastic debut novel by Thao Thai. A multi-generational story which spans decades , this story is told by three strong, stubborn, fiercely loyal and loving ...   Read More
Suzanne G. (Tucson, AZ)

This is a great book! I felt it could go on forever and I wouldn't mind a bit. The story is so well written the interacting characters seemed to become real and ready to tell us more secrets. Thao Thai is an author to be followed; her novel is ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The Vietnamese Folktale of Chú Cuội (The Man in the Moon)

Banyan tree with sunlight streaming between leavesIn Banyan Moon, author Thao Thai interweaves references to a Vietnamese folktale about a "man in the moon." In the story, a woodcutter called Chú Cuội is walking through the jungle one day when he sees a trio of tiger cubs. He approaches, thinking he might be able to catch one and sell it, then use the money to buy an ox. He manages to grab one of the cubs and begins his trek out of the jungle, when he suddenly hears the ferocious roar of the cubs' mother behind him. Chú Cuội scampers up a tree, dropping the tiger cub in the process. The cub suffers an injury to the head in the fall, and Chú Cuội watches in amazement as the mother tiger removes leaves from a banyan tree, chews them and applies them to the ...

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