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Audiobook Review: The Mountain Sings by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai

Title: The Mountains Sing

Author: Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai (narrator: Quyen Ngo)
Year published: 2021
Category: Adult fiction (historical)
Pages: 368 pages
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location: (my 2023 Google Reading map)Vietnam

SummaryWith the epic sweep of Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko or Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing and the lyrical beauty of Vaddey Ratner’s In the Shadow of the Banyan, The Mountains Sing tells an enveloping, multigenerational tale of the Trần family, set against the backdrop of the Việt Nam War. Trần Diệu Lan, who was born in 1920, was forced to flee her family farm with her six children during the Land Reform as the Communist government rose in the North. Years later in Hà Nội, her young granddaughter, Hương, comes of age as her parents and uncles head off down the Hồ Chí Minh Trail to fight in a conflict that tore apart not just her beloved country, but also her family.

Vivid, gripping, and steeped in the language and traditions of Việt Nam, The Mountains Sing brings to life the human costs of this conflict from the point of view of the Vietnamese people themselves, while showing us the true power of kindness and hope.

The Mountains Sing is celebrated Vietnamese poet Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’s first novel in English.

Review: I love the cover of this book, there is something soothing about it, which is a bit in contrast to the story within. Hearing the story of the Vietnam War from the Vietnamese side is beautiful and harrowing. Families were displaced, torn apart, and killed.

The narrator did a great job with this novel and I liked that she knows Vietnamese so well, which makes those parts feel more real and authentic. Her voice was soothing and easy to listen to. The only complaint I have about the audio is that I couldn't look back to double check names to keep the generations straight, but that's on me, not the book or narrator.

This is a multigenerational saga that covers the time before the Vietnam War, during the war, and after as families tried to reunite, to get their lives back, and to move on despite their losses. I really feel like I have a sense of Vietnamese history in the 20th century, what life was like, the movements that affected families, the lasting affects of the War, and more. The one era that really sticks with me is the Land Reform of the 1950s, which seems to be like many communist movements (think Mao's China) in which workers were pitted against landowners with devastating results.

I am all about a family saga in which I learn about a country and a time and this novel did just that.

Challenges for which this counts: none

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