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The Mountains Sing

4.61  ·  Rating details ·  98 ratings  ·  53 reviews
“An epic account of Việt Nam’s painful 20th century history, both vast in scope and intimate in its telling . . . Moving and riveting.” —VIET THANH NGUYEN, author of The Sympathizer, winner of the Pulitzer Prize

With 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
Kindle Edition, 352 pages
Expected publication: March 17th 2020 by Algonquin Books
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Mai Nguyễn Hi Yael, thank you very much for your interest. It really depends on the child. I’d say 12-13 years old but there are some difficult scenes because…moreHi Yael, thank you very much for your interest. It really depends on the child. I’d say 12-13 years old but there are some difficult scenes because they deal with war and trauma. I hope you will read the book and decide when it is appropriate to share it with your child. Many, many thanks.(less)

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Average rating 4.61  · 
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 ·  98 ratings  ·  53 reviews

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Jan 20, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, vietnam-war
“That night and for the next many nights, to dry my tears, Grandma opened the door of her childhood to me. Her stories scooped me up and delivered me to the hilltop of Nghe An where I could fill my lungs with the fragrance of rice fields, sink my eyes into the Lam River, and become a green dot on the Truong Son mountain range. In her stories, I tasted the sweetness of sim berries on my tongue, felt grasshoppers kicking in my hands, and slept in a hammock under a sky woven by shimmering stars…I ...more
UPDATE December 26, 2019: I'm adding the fifth star to my rating. See my note at the end of the review for an explanation.

How much privation and loss and violence can one small nation endure? If you were to study the history of Vietnam in the 20th century, it would almost seem as if the fates had set out to determine the answer to that question. Most of us are familiar with the Vietnam War from the American perspective, but the Vietnamese people had already suffered through numerous indignities
Cindy Burnett
Jan 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book deserves all the stars and more. Beautifully and lyrically written, Nguyen Phan Que Mai’s English debut follows multiple generations of the Tran family against the background of Vietnam’s heartrending 20th century history. From the rise of the Communist government in North Vietnam to the years of conflict during the war itself, The Mountains Sing highlights the impact and cost of the events that led up to Vietnam War and the war itself on the Vietnamese people from their perspective ...more
Elle Rudy
Nov 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley, 2020
A deeply moving story that spans the better part of a century, Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai displays a side of Việt Nam and the Vietnamese people that western audiences haven’t had much exposure to. We’re introduced to the Trần family through hardship and triumph alike, led by their unwavering matriarch Trần Diệu Lan. From French and Japanese occupation to both domestic and international conflict, this family is tested in ways that most of us can hardly begin to imagine.

Although quite beautiful, The
Mai Nguyễn
Dec 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  (Review from the author)  ·  review of another edition
Dear Readers,

It took me seven years, hundreds of revisions, many sleepless nights, tears... and finally THE MOUNTAINS SING is here. I am so thankful to you - my precious Readers - for the gift of your time: time that you have spent or will spend with the Trần family in my novel.

Grandma Diệu Lan in THE MOUNTAINS SING is the grandmother I always wished for. Both my grandmothers had died before my birth and I wanted to have a grandma who would sing me lullabies, tell me the legends and tales of my
Dec 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: fans of family sagas
Thank you to NetGalley and Algonquin Books for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

The Mountains Sing is a beautiful, heartbreaking novel of family, forgiveness, and perseverance by Vietnamese author Nguyen Phan Que Mai. It features a split timeline, which I usually avoid in historical fiction because so often one timeline is much better than the other(s). In this case, however, I enjoyed it. The two main timelines wove together to paint a picture of Vietnam’s rich culture
Dec 26, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Writer Nguyen Phan Que Mai—herself a poet—quotes fellow poet Phung Quan midway through her book: “A circus rope walker balances breath-taking difficulties. Yet tougher still to be a writer enduring a lifetime on the path of truth.”

If this be her criteria, then Que Mai succeeds beautifully. All too many Americans have read Vietnamese writers who help them try to gain an understanding of the sad and futile Vietnamese War and our indefensible part in it. This author goes much further, bringing
Dec 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Just finished the ARC copy of this beautiful book, I could not put it down. It offers a human perspective of the events of 20th century in Vietnam by following one family through the century. Highly recommend!
Christian Kiefer
In her deeply felt debut novel, Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai tells the story of three generations scattered by war and imperialism. For American readers in particular, this is essential reading: the "other side" of what we know as the Vietnam War. This is a novel about the weight of conflict upon families, upon relationships, upon the human heart. Not to be missed.
Sep 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Thank you NetGalley for the free ARC.

"Politics is as dirty as sewage."

Truer words have not been spoken. This is the best book I have read about Vietnam written from the Vietnamese point of view. The history lesson includes the French and Japanese occupations, the Viet Minh war (Indochina War), the great hunger and the land reform after the Geneva Accords until the eventual reunification. All of it is told from the viewpoint of several generations of the Tran family that suffered and survived
This book is excellent. The author provides a vivid portrait of life in Vietnam in the twentieth century by following one family's experiences. I would highly recommend it to anyone.
Feb 11, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In the United States, there is a very clear narrative about the Vietnam War. We learn about the politicians and their “domino theory,” who took over a colonial war from the French, while a growing anti-war movement works to end the conflict. We learn about soldiers who are sent to die and are then called baby-killers when they come back. Sometimes, we even learn about the long-lasting effects of post-traumatic stress disorder and Agent Orange and the Boat People who came to America after the ...more
Feb 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"In your schoolbooks, you won't find anything about the Land Reform nor about the internal fighting of the Viet Minh. A part of our country's history has been erased, together with the lives of countless people. We're forbidden to talk about events that relate to past mistakes or the wrongdoing of those in power, for they give themselves the right to rewrite history. But you're old enough to know that history will write itself in people's memories, and as long as those memories live on, we can ...more
Jan 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
One of the most moving novels about the Vietnam war. It's a multi-generational tale of the Tran family, where the matriarch was forced to flee her home with her six children during the Land Reform by the Communist party. Years later her granddaughter lives through her own trauma as her family joins the country's conflict to fight for their country. This is historical fiction as its best and would be a perfect book for book clubs who want to sink their teeth into historical events.

* I read an
Wayne Karlin
Dec 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“Somehow I was sure that if people were willing to read each other…there would be no war on earth,” says Huong, one of the two female narrators of this astonishing novel. Over the last two decades we have been gifted with works by Vietnamese writers who have brought us into the consciousness of those that Americans saw only as backdrops for their own stories. Nguyen Phan Que Mai not only adds to that rich body of work, she daringly transcends it. Revolution, mass starvation, invasion, and civil ...more
Thanhha Lai
Nov 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I can't recommend this book enough. Written in English by a well-respected Vietnamese writer who reached deep into four generations of stories to spin a tale of survival, resilience, love and forgiveness. Read it to smell, taste, see, feel, hear the Vietnam War as lived by those on the ground.
Feb 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The Mountains Sing is a vast family saga, chronicling the story of Hương, as she grows up in North Vietnam after the Vietnam War, and that of her grandmother, Diệu Lan, before, during and after the war. The story is sweeping, and carries us across mountains, rural villages and dusty roads to sprawling cities. The cast of characters is quite large, but each individual is made unique, human and real through Nguyen Phan Que Mai’s expert storytelling.

The narrative goes back and forth from Hương’s
Feb 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
In this elegiac far reaching debut novel,I was caught up in the 4 generation story of the Tran family. Told in alternating chapters and time lines from the grandmother and the granddaughter, it provides an eye opening lens into the life of the North Vietnamese during the Indochina war, the Great Hunger, the Land Reform movement and the vicissitudes of war. Much has been written from the perspective of the South Vietnamese but this quiet novel, although laced with horror and harrowing events, is ...more
Tristan Munoz
Feb 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The Mountains Sing has simultaneously been the most heartbreaking, eye-opening and uplifting story that I have ever read. This story was an insightful and inspiring look into the lives of women in North Vietnam. I am truly blown away by the amount of pain and suffering that the characters in this book went through, yet they still remained strong and held on to hope. Thinking about the real people and the true stories that inspired this fantastic piece of work simply broke my heart. There are so ...more
Jennifer Schultz
Read if you: Want a sublime, heartbreaking, and moving historical fiction novel set during a period of great upheaval in Vietnam (1950s-late 70s).

This book is special. It's gorgeously written, devastating at times (but ends on a hopeful note), and eye-opening. The unfathomable upheaval and disturbance caused in Vietnamese society due to the Vietnam War--pitting neighbors and family members against each other--is masterfully conveyed. However--there is also enormous strength, love, and
Tristan Munoz
Feb 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book has simultaneously been the most heartbreaking, eye-opening and uplifting story that I have ever read.

The Mountains Sing is told by two alternating viewpoints as we experience the current life of Huong, and also hear the stories her Grandmother tells about her own past.

This story about the generations of women and their families who lived through a war torn Vietnam broke my heart. And even through all of their suffering, they remained strong and hopeful. Absolutely inspiring.

Lindsay Mueller
Jan 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’s debut English-language novel The Mountains Sing is strikingly beautiful. The prose is lyrical while also accessible, weaving stories told by a grandmother and granddaughter into a narrative that is heartbreaking and then reaffirming a hundred times over. This book is a challenging read and may be triggering to some (war, death, abandonment). For readers who are interested in learning more about Vietnam and its history, this is an accessible historical fiction told by an ...more
Travel Books and Movies
I have spent time in Vietnam (both North and South). I knew Vietnam had a long storied past. I knew there were challenges in Vietnam’s history I hadn’t been taught in school. I knew the Vietnamese were strong people.

So, I thought I was ready for this book...I wasn’t.

The Mountains Sing is a heart-wrenching novel tracing a portion of Vietnam’s history through the stories of Dieu Lan, her granddaughter, Huong (called Guava), and their families. (Fortunately, there’s a family tree in the front to
Feb 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Its a beautiful story about a girl growing up in North Vietnam and her imperfect family as they struggle thru war and the changing political climate of her country. I really enjoyed this book, I felt like I was part of her family!

Uyen Nguyen
Feb 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Mountains Sing offers a heartbreaking perspective of the turn in fortune and suffering experienced by our grandparents and parents generation during Japanese occupation and post-American War Vietnam. My heart ached while reading the book, but also felt lifted by the strength and resiliency of the Vietnamese in these generations.
Mary Buss
Feb 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was fortunate to receive a preview copy from BookBrowse. This a beautifully written novel about a Vietnamese family and the turbulent times they faced through several generations. It is at times heart-wrenching(human's inhumanity to others) but also about the hope and resiliency of family love and friendships.
Jan 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read an ARC of this beautiful book. I’m sad my copy didn’t have the acknowledgements section. The writing is beautiful, but this story of war is incredibly sad at times. This is also a story of hope and resilience. I loved Tran Dieu Lan - she was a perfect grandma and mother - even with her imperfections.

I wish the gods of war would read this book. War hurts everyone it touches - forever.
Jan 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I am familiar with the Vietnam war only from an American perspective. This story is beautifully and compellingly told by Nguyen Phan Que Mai whose family lived through Vietnam's 20th century history starting with the Land Reform, Communist rule and the Vietnam war.

Through a grandmother and granddaughter's stories we learn how three generations of one family were affected by politics and war Their neighbors turn on them and one another; crops and forests were being destroyed and family members
Jan 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the best books I've read in a long time! The author Nguyen Phan Que Mai is a poet and it shows in her beautiful prose. Growing up in the 70s I'm fully aware of the horror that is called the Vietnam War. I've read books about the War but from the American perspective this book brings us the struggles of Vietnam starting with the Land Reform, Communists rule and finally the Vietnam War through the eyes of a North Vietnamese family, Dieu Lan her six children and her granddaughter ...more
Julie Barnard
Jan 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
What a wonderful book! This tells the story of the Vietnam War from the perspective of the North. It is told beautifully with wonderful characters.
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Born into the Việt Nam War in 1973, Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai grew up witnessing the war’s devastation and its aftermath. She worked as a street seller and rice farmer before winning a scholarship to attend university in Australia. She is the author of eight books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction published in Vietnamese, and her writing has been translated and published in more than 10 countries, most ...more