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The Mountains Sing

Synopsis

Ha Noi, 1972. As war breaks out in Viet Nam, twelve-year-old Hương clings to her grandmother in an improvised shelter as American bombs fall around them. For her grandmother, the experience is horribly familiar. This is a woman who knows what it takes to hold a family together as a country crumbles. And now, coming of age in a nation rocked by conflict, Hương must do the same.

With the epic sweep of Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko and the haunting beauty of Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, The Mountains Sing tells the enveloping, multigenerational tale of the Trần family, intimate, lyrical and bursting with life.

Authors Biography

Dr Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai is an award-winning Vietnamese poet and novelist. She is the author of eleven books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction. Her books in Vietnamese has received the 2010 Poetry of the Year Award from the Hanoi Writers Association, the Capital’s Literature & Arts Award, and First Prize in the Poetry Competition celebrating 1,000 Years of Hanoi. Her debut novel and first book in English, THE MOUNTAINS SING, is an International Bestseller, runner-up of the 2021 Dayton Literary Peace Prize, Winner of the 2020 BookBrowse Best Debut Award, Winner of the Blogger’s Book Prize 2021, Winner of the 2021 International Book Awards, Winner of the 2021 PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Literary Award, and Winner of the 2020 Lannan Literary Award Fellowship for “a work of exceptional quality” and for “contribution to peace and reconciliation”. Quế Mai’s second novel, DUST CHILD, is forthcoming with Algonquin Books. For more information, visit: nguyenphanquemai.com

Reviews

‘[An] absorbing, stirring novel… Que Mai contains her saga with a poet’s discipline… She evokes the landscape hauntingly, as a site of loss so profound it assumes the quality of fable.’ – New York Times Book Review

‘Expansive in scope and feeling, The Mountains Sing is a feat of hope, an unflinchingly felt inquiry into the past, with the courageous storytelling of the present.’ – Ocean Vuong, author of On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

‘A compelling and challenging novel that should be read as an attempt to recognise both the presence of the past and its profound effect on the formation of individual and national identity.’ – Irish Times

‘The Mountains Sing is an epic account of Việt Nam’s painful 20th century history, both vast in scope and intimate in its telling. Through the travails of one family, Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai brings us close to the horrors of famine, war, and class struggle. But in this moving and riveting novel, she also shows us a post-war Việt Nam, a country of hope and renewal, home to a people who have never given up.’ – Viet Thanh Nguyen, Pulitzer Prizewinning author of The Sympathizer

‘A Vietnamese poet conjures history and fate in a luminous tale that resonates across generations as one family grapples with the psychic residue of war.’ – O, The Oprah Magazine

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46 Comments

  1. I just loved this book. I was young and in college during the war with Viet Nam here in the US. This book really helped me understand horror of the war and the humanity of the people. I would recommend it to everyone.

  2. Such a wonderful and insightful piece of work.

  3. There is no more deserving a book than this gorgeous, significant debut.

  4. I am a book club facilitator. I run about 10 clubs per month. The Mountains Sing was loved by all and rated one of our top five of the year.

  5. A fabulous novel beautifully and poetically written to expose the readers to the misery of war as well as providing a window into the modern history of Vietnam.

  6. Wonderful book!!!

  7. Highly recommended.

  8. I really enjoyed this book because it showed a perspective of the Vietnam war usually left unexplored in western narratives.

  9. cool book

  10. good

  11. This is a tremendous novel which conveys the deep love and resilience of two remarkable Vietnamese women (a grandmother and granddaughter) across many decades of the 20th Century. Set against the backdrop of the numerous wars and other tragedies Vietnam endured in the last
    century, I found it both sobering and inspiring. And, as the son of a American drafted combatant in the US-Vietnam war, this novel has given me a life-restoring glimpse into the heroism and beauty of the people of Vietnam. There is deep love and compassion for all people affected by these historical tragedies which the author, Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai, communicates masterfully in this story, and with an unquenchable sense of hope. Reading ”The Mountains Sing” has moved and forever changed me at deep levels. I can not imagine a book more deserving of this award.

  12. I felt connected to the sense of powerlessness in front of history and politics. Yet also I also feel ashamed that until this book, I have not stepped closer to people behind history. The stories themselves ultimately brought healing to the end. I found a peaceful resolution when Grandma let the past by past after the suffering and losses of her family.

  13. Absolutely loved this book to the core.

  14. gut-wrenching. my god. the atrocities of war and for what.

    Nguyên Pham Quê Mai beautifully weaves a multi-generational story through the experiences of the Land Reform and the Viêt Nam war, the impacts seen and unseen, the immediate losses and the losses that came unexpectedly and much later. she explores the complicated nature of forgiveness and understanding, of motherhood, of family, of betrayal. absolutely adored Hùòng, the main character. highly recommend this one!

  15. This book is so eloquently written and truly powerful

  16. Wonderfully written book. It kept me hooked to my seat as I read the struggle, loss, longing and triumph of Tran family through the eyes of Heiun bein and Huong. I must say, it is one of the best book start of this year for me. My first read this year and I am glad I picked this one.

  17. What an incredible testament of resilience and bravery, from a beautiful family. I’ll never forget this book.

  18. I adore this novel. The subject matter, the endurance, perseverance, redemption, triumphs and tribulations of a Vietnamese family from the 1930s to the near present, challenged me in ways I admire. Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’s talent as a poet shines through in this needed historical novel. The novel, which Quế Mai took 7 years (and a lifetime of experience) to write, evokes strong, heart wrenching emotions while beautifully supplying a context within which the two main characters (Trần Diệu Lan, the indomitable grandmother, and Hương, her granddaughter) navigate trial after trial to their country, their family and their lives. The book is a fast read given the well-developed characters and the pacing, but I found myself slowing down to relish the story.

    I wish I could give this book 6 stars. It is that beautifully written and that important. I cared enough for the Trần family that serval vignettes brought literal tears to my eyes. I wanted to MEET these people and hug them and help them and know them even more.

    To that end, I found myself wanting a sequel!! Hương in the present day world and her further journey toward self-realization? The parallel story of HươNg’s father? I just want MORE of these characters/family/writing. (This even prompted me to order one of Quế Mai’s books of poetry, The Secret of Hoa Sen.)

    This wonderful novel, its family and its depiction of Vietnam will stay with me for a long time. The book has garnered copious rave reviews and awards, and all are so very well deserved.

    Finally, a note on the audiobook (I purchased it as well, so I could continue with the story during my daily commute): Quyen Ngo takes Quế Mai’s poetic prose and renders it lyrical. I found myself wanting to revisit portions of the book I had already read so that I could savor Quyen’s narration. I hope she narrates more, because I would buy a book on the strength of her involvement alone.

    In short: I loved it so much, I’ve already bought multiple copies as gifts for others. It is THAT incredible.

  19. My mother has passed almost 7 years now. Cooking, Vietnamese stories, and anything Vietnam basically reminds me of her and how I long for her presence. But it makes me appreciate the tender loving care Vietnamese mothers have for their children. The hard labor, the perseverance, the forgiving heart, and the unsurmountable hope that lives within their soul is a reminder of my mother and my life growing up. This book embodies all of that and such a great representation of the traditional motherhood of a Vietnamese mother.

  20. Wonderfully written, very powerful, poetic, and emotional stunning novel.

  21. This book literally deserves more attention and praise. It is one of the most powerful, stunning and moving novels of 21st century. A wonderful piece of literature! Filled with strong and hopeful voices, it portrays the brutality of war and the rays of light and love even in the darkest times.

  22. This is one of the few books which touches your heart with its fluid and poetic writing. Apart from opening a window to Vietnamese history and culture it also reflects the effect of war on common people. The strength and resiliance of the people especially the women keeps the families afloat during the tough times and provides hope to the future generations. Grandma Lan is a perfect example of this .
    This book totally deserves all the attention.

  23. This book is amazing! My husband is a disabled Viet Nam vet. A friend from Jr. High has married a Vietnamese woman. That war has defined our lives and the lives of our children as we fought against it, and fought to help the soldiers whose lives were destroyed by it. I love to hear all the details from one who knows the struggle. To me it is the Vietnamese Dr. Zhivago in that people are trying to live loving lives, work hard, and are decimated by senseless wars. I love how she indicts all of the imperialists and totalitarians. If only people could realize that we all have a such a common bond which the corporate/political propaganda obscures in order to divides us, use us, and destroy our earth.

  24. It is incredible how a book that is so well-written and about such universal ideas (about love, war, family, representation, resilience) can be so accessible.

    With poetic moments embedded in the beautiful prose, this book is a piece of art that inspires, challenges perceptions, and shows multiple facets of our capacity as humans to love, destroy, overcome, and love again.

    It is a great book to re-read, teach, and discuss. I have given this book as a gift to the strong women in my life.

  25. The Mountains Sing is a story of a woman, who finds the strength to fight and survive while being inflicted by war that destroyed her family. It is a story of a family that despite differences come together to build their shattered lives.
    When reading this book one can touch and feel the emotions of the characters and walk along their journey of trials and triumphs.

  26. I so enjoyed reading The Mountains Sing. Our book club thoroughly enjoyed our discussion of this book! Most of us lived through the Vietnam War and knew Americans who served in this devastating confusing war! I loved the relationship that the grandmother had with her granddaughter and learned a lot about what the Vietnamese people went through before and during the time of the war.

  27. The Mountains Sing lovingly covers a century of history, and although the 2 countries have many differences, the North and South
    of US is similar. So sad, but irreparable. Man’s inhumanity to man is clear and, in this wonderful book, well-documented. I feel much better educated but sadder. We need hope!

  28. I’m so glad because this one book deserve all the appreciations. Such a great book with more beautiful writing.

  29. So few own-voice stories from Vietnamese women have been published and this book makes such important contribution to literature. It is filled with hope and compassion, and with the longing for peace. The world needs more literature like this as we work toward peace.

  30. This book will always have a special place in my heart. One of the most beautiful novels I’ve ever read.

  31. This was a gorgeous and important book. Beautifully written, smartly crafted, and it taught me so much about how we should tell stories of war–that we can talk about trauma without inflicting it. This novel had such a gentleness and so much wisdom about healing amidst the honest portrayals of brutality.

  32. What a wonderful book to read. It was so compelling, that I read it twice. I am very interested in Vietnamese history and especially from the north. Even though it was fiction based on facts. Thank you for writing this book

  33. We started a book club this year and this was the first book we read. We all agreed it was a wonderful read, and have recommended it others since. It was very moving, and spoke about the ability of the human heart to keep going, even in the midst of terrible times.

  34. I have read several books set in Vietnam by Vietnamese authors and others. The Mountains Sing is at the top of my list for this engaging family saga that sweeps across time and place to tell the complex story of one family’s experience during the 20th C, and how differently each was affected by the traumas of war. I’ve recommended it to several.

  35. Terrific book that gives voice to the numberless victims of violence in Vietnam and elsewhere. This book is a work of peace and reconciliation. May peace prevail in our homes and communities.

  36. I was afraid to read this book because I knew it would tell horrific things I didn’t want to know about. But, I was so glad I did. It’s a beautifully written account of one family living through war and in the end it shows that love and understanding and education can heal the human spirit. I am in awe of this writer and her book.

  37. It was an honor to host a library talk with author and poet Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai of “The Mountains Sing.” The heartbreaking story of a family’s courage, resilience, strength and intergenerational trauma reflects the history of the Vietnamese people. It was so poignant to hear about the War from the Vietnamese perspective. I also liked how the Vietnamese proverbs were seamlessly woven into the narrative, i.e. “Soft and persistent rain penetrates the earth better then a storm” and “Good luck hides inside bad luck.” Ms. Quế Mai is an exceptional storyteller.

  38. Wonderful book, highly recommended, I have met Que Mai, wonderful discussions, hope to meet her again soon

  39. Such a moving story with amazing imagery and skilled writing! Hopefully will get to read lots more from this author, I learned so much about Viet Nam through reading this.

  40. Excellent book, beautifully written, with a perspective that needs to be read. I recommend it.

  41. Inspired from real experiences, The Mountains Sing is a benchmark in Asian Historical Fiction. The intensity of adversity flows poignantly from the pages giving us characters you cry with & cry for. This is a wildly underrated book which needs more eyes, more praise, more highlight & just more love.

  42. The Mountains Sing is one of the most moving novels I’ve ever read. A must read for anyone living through the those terrible times. The author records a sublime, compassionate tale of family survival and suffering during a dark era for both Vietnam and America.

  43. I loved this book. I lived there 3.5 years during the American War and have read lots of books about it , but this was the most balanced one I have ever read and it captures so clearly the human story of Vietnamese people.

  44. The Mountains Sing is a compassionate tribute to the Vienamese people, who suffered so much during decades of war and natural disasters. One of the best novels I have ever read.

  45. The Mountains Sing is the remarkable epic tale of a single, strong Vietnamese family whose struggle to survive and thrive through all of the tragedies and bloodshed of modern Vietnamese history becomes emblematic of the strength and the beauty of the Vietnamese people, and especially Vietnamese women.

  46. I utterly adore The Mountains Sing as I admire the writer.
    The Mountains Sing can be read a thousand times and more…Believe me, it will never let you down! Always alive!
    It’s Nguyen Phan Que Mai love letter to Vietnam Cultural Heritage and its people, the Voices of Vietnam from French Colonialism to Reunification and beyond.
    The women of Tran family represent the past and the future of Vietnam History.
    Dieu Lan witnesses the past. She is a grandmother, a wise strong kind woman of great humanity who believes in peace. In order to survive, she has to gain her own indipendence and reunite her family.
    Huong embodies the present and the future of Tran Family at the end of the American War in Vietnam.
    Her mother and uncles are back home but they have been traumatized by the conflit horros on the Ho Chi Minh Trail , ‘the blood road’.
    In this climax of terror, Huong, will find her true love which helps her survive and move on.
    Thanks to the poetic writing of writer, The Mountains Sing is a masterpiece!
    Read it!

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