While going through her elderly mother’s things, Lindsey Casselton discovers a photo of her mother in the arms of a stranger. The photo is dated nine months before Lindsey was born. The father she grew up with is dead and her mother has Alzheimer's, which leaves Lindsey no option but to embark on a life-changing journey to learn about her birth father—a CIA operative in Vietnam, who went missing at the end of the war.
On the other side of the country, Nate Huong has a challenging youth and eventually finds his way as a restaurant owner with his Vietnamese mother Mai as head chef. When he goes to his mother’s homeland, Nate learns disturbing new details about his American father—a CIA operative, who was last seen at Mai’s family’s homestead.
The two half siblings, Lindsey and Nate, meet in Vietnam by chance during Tet at a coffee plantation in the highlands. After combining their knowledge and uncovering more at an explosive gathering with Nate’s Vietnamese family, they learn what really happened to their father, Steve Nathan, after he left Saigon and drove into the encroaching North Vietnamese army, never to return.
People fascinate me. All kinds of people. I like to imagine getting into their heads and seeing life through their eyes. I also like to garden, cook, read, go to the movies, theater, concerts, play with my granddaughters, hike, do yoga, and laugh with my friends (in no particular order.)
I have a degree in English Literature and have been a feature writer for a newspaper, a technical writer at IBM, and currently edit a community newsletter. I grew up in Vietnam before the war and recently returned for a two-week tour during Tet. Home is now Nashua, NH.
Lindsey thought she knew who her father was. But when she finds a photo of her mother with a man she doesn't recognize, dated nine months before her birth, she realizes that the man who raised her wasn't her father after all. She wonders what kept the man in the photo from coming back to her mother, and she sets off to find out more about him. She learns that his name was Steve Nathan, and he was an American operative in the Vietnam War. Missing, presumed dead.
Nate has grown up knowing who his father was - Steve Nathan, an American who died in the war. While his childhood in California with his mother Mai wasn't always easy, he knows it's better than what he could have had in Mai's home country of Vietnam as a "half-breed", of mixed race. He and Mai have a successful restaurant business, and he goes back to Vietnam to meet his family there and pursue possible business connections. He also knows there's more to his father's story than Mai has shared with him, and hopes to have a chance to learn what she's not saying.
Nate and Lindsey meet up by chance in Vietnam, and when Nate mentions his father's name, Lindsey realizes he is her half-brother. Nate invites Lindsey to his family's celebration of Tet, a Vietnamese holiday, and they decide it's time that family secrets come to light.
I will not tell you all of the plot. Mary Marchese tells this story, and she does it admirably. What I will tell you is that this story is the kind that will linger long after the last page. The descriptions of Vietnam, the country and the culture, are both engaging and enlightening, especially to a reader like me, who isn't very familiar with the country. After reading this book, I think I might like to go visit there. Lindsey and Nate were easy to envision in my mind's eye as I read, and while Lindsey is an adult for the entirety, it was delightful to see Nate grow up over the course of the book. The story's focus is primarily on the mystery of Steve Nathan, but there's also some suspense and a little romance.
While I was a bit put off at first by the use of present tense for Lindsey and past tense for Nate, I soon realized that this made it easier for me to follow whose narrative I was reading. It certainly didn't distract from the pleasure of the story. And the ending. Oh, wow. I didn't expect the ending, and it was very well done. I liked the way Ms. Marchese brought the story of Steve Nathan full circle. When I'd read the last word, I just looked at the page for a moment or two, because I was unable to walk away from it. Truly, this is a gem that ranks among my favorite books this year.
I'd recommend this book for anyone who likes a well-told story about love, loss, and family secrets.
Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book through Reedsy Discovery. All opinions here are mine, and I don't say nice things about books I don't like.
I won this book from Goodreads. If I could give it TEN stars, I would do so! It is a novel...but it is so real, I wanted to ask the author if she was (secretly) Lindsey! This novel did so many things..taught me all kinds of things about Vietnam, and about what the Vietnamese call "the American war". I thought I knew so much about it, but I have learned that I didn't know what I thought I knew! It also made me cry, because it is a very, very sad story. And, the end is so unexpected! If you have an interest in stories of the human side of war, or if you were in Vietnam, or if you loved someone who was part of the Vietnam conflict...then, you have to read this book. You won't be sorry!
"What Really Happened to Steve Nathan" is an engaging novel about two people looking for answers about their shared father. I won’t go into the details of the plot because I don’t want to give spoilers, and the books’ description does a fine job of it. Suffice it to say that the plot is strong and the narration and dialog pulled me along throughout the story. The author did several things that I found really effective. She’s telling the story from the perspective of two different characters, who even begin in two locations. The book is organized in chapters that alternate between the two protagonists, with each chapter title saying whether it’s from Lindey’s or Nate’s perspective. She also chose a different tense for each of these characters, choosing present tense for Lindsey and past tense for Nate. This was a nice subtle way of ensuring that I always knew whose head I was in.
The characters—even the supporting ones—are strong and realistic, adding to the realism of the story. I love her narration, and her descriptions of Vietnam helped bring that place alive in my head.
Although there wasn’t as much action in the story as I tend to prefer, the mystery behind Steve Nathan’s disappearance and the rich characters and settings kept me going throughout the book, and the payoff at the end didn’t disappoint!
I always feel weird about giving a five-star rating, because, in every book, there’s always something that can be changed to improve it. But if that’s true of all books, then I would never be able to give five stars. So, I decided to go all the way here. Is the book perfect? Of course not—no book is. But is it a good story that is well told that pulls you along with a satisfying ending? Yes!
A gripping page-turner that you won't be able to put down!
Mary's writing captivates you from the first sentence and doesn't let go until the last. Her vivid descriptions of Vietnam, its culture, people, and history are as compelling as the mystery of "What really happened to Steve Nathan?" If you love the kind of story that engages you thoroughly and leaves you thinking about it for days afterward then you'll LOVE this book. I'll be standing by, anxiously waiting for Mary's next novel!