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Review: Dust Child by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai


Title: Dust Child
Author: Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai
Year published: 2023
Category: Adult fiction (historical)
Pages: 352 pages
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location: (my 2024 Google Reading map)Việt Nam

SummaryIn 1969, sisters Trang and Quỳnh, desperate to help their parents pay off debts, leave their rural village to work at a bar in Sài Gòn. Once in the big city, the young girls are thrown headfirst into a world they were not expecting. They learn how to speak English, how to dress seductively, and how to drink and flirt (and more) with American GIs in return for money. As the war moves closer to the city, the once-innocent Trang gets swept up in an irresistible romance with a handsome and kind American helicopter pilot she meets at the bar.

Decades later, an American veteran, Dan, returns to Việt Nam with his wife, Linda, in search of a way to heal from his PTSD; instead, secrets he thought he had buried surface and threaten his marriage. At the same time, Phong—the adult son of a Black American soldier and a Vietnamese woman—embarks on a mission to find both his parents and a way out of Việt Nam. Abandoned in front of an orphanage, Phong grew up being called “the dust of life,” “Black American imperialist,” and “child of the enemy,” and he dreams of a better life in the United States for himself, his wife Bình, and his children.

Review: Last year I read The Mountains Sing (link to my review) by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai and loved it and I recently read Kristin Hannah's novel The Women (link to my review), which was also excellent. This novel gives a very different perspective on the conflict in Việt Nam and its repercussions in both the US and Việt Nam.

Of course I knew that there were children born of US soldiers and local women, but I hadn't really thought through the consequences when the US left and how the children left behind were treated, especially those who had African American fathers. The orphanages swelled with these children and it must have had a huge impact on the country as a whole to have so many children raised outside their families.

I liked the way this novel wove together the history of Việt Nam during the US Conflict and what it is like fifty years later. The focus on the experiences of local women during the conflict was really interesting and something that I hadn't read about before. The author has a very good sense of culture, settings, and dialogue which I remember from her first novel. This is definitely an author that I will continue to read.

Challenges for which this counts: 
  • Alphabet (Title)--D

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