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The Mountains Sing

4.70  ·  Rating details ·  61 ratings  ·  32 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 4.70  · 
Rating details
 ·  61 ratings  ·  32 reviews

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Jan 20, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: vietnam-war, fiction
“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
Dec 17, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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 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!
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.
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
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
Elle Rudy
Nov 01, 2019 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: on-deck, 2020, netgalley
*Thanks to Algonquin Books & Netgalley for an advance copy!
Jan 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Nguyen Phan Que Mai’s marvelous The Mountains Sing is the renowned Vietnamese poet’s first novel in English. It’s a multigenerational look at life in the northern and southern parts of Vietnam over a period from 1930 up through today.

It’s a story of hardship, struggle, love, and the ties that bind family together. A family, in this case, whose matriarch could stand solidly beside John Steinbeck’s Ma Joad in the annals of literary history.

The story is told in a nonlinear fashion as a teenage
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
Karen Lewis
This book releases in the USA in March, 2020. A poetic heart song of a novel that excavates painful history and creates possibilities for peace living within each of us. The author's dedication reveals brilliant roots of this tender novel. "For my grandmother, who perished in the Great Hunger; for my grandfather, who died because of the Land Reform; and for my uncle, whose youth the Vietnam War consumed. For the millions of people, Vietnamese and non-Vietnamese, who lost their lives in the war. ...more
Jan 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
This family epic about how colonialism and the American War has shaped the Vietnamese, gripped me from the very first page. Told from the dual perspectives of grandmother and granddaughter, one sees how their love of family and survival in the foreground as devastation surrounds them. Between the communist land reforms post colonialism in the north, to the fighting against the south, the family history of tough choices made out of love, friends, enemies and politics slowly unfolds. This family ...more
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
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.
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
Dec 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: give-aways
This book is so heart wrenchingly beautiful and tragic. Deep in thought and detail regarding viet nam. Would love to read more from this author.
Dec 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: epic, ng, vietnam
Wow, just wow. I was absolutely gutted by this family epic. The tragedies and hardships of 20th-century history play out in very personal ways for the generations of the Trần family. The novel is not chronological but told in layers of recollections and stories, and each character has a distinctive voice. There are also cultural and historical explanations woven in so that the reader unfamiliar with Vietnam won't feel too lost. I won't soon forget this book, and I look forward to reading more ...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.
Angie Sanchez
Dec 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
I usually don't like historical fiction, but this one drew me in from the first few pages. It's an amazing epic that alternates between two timelines during the 20th century in Vietnam -- Huong's coming of age during the Vietnam War and flashbacks to her grandmother's life during the Land Reform and division of North and South Vietnam. I especially loved the chapters that focused on the grandmother's experiences because they're written in an oral-history style. This book is an authentic gem that ...more
Beth Phillips
Dec 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Thank you Algonquin Books for an advance reading copy. I am a retired Vermont librarian and have read many books about Vietnam and visited the country several times. It was a pleasure to read The Mountains Sing by Nguyen Phan Que Mai, a young Vietnamese author writing in English. The novel tells the story of Huong and her grandmother Dieu Lan during the time of the American - Vietnam war and, through family history, ranges back in time to The Great Hunger of the 1940s and the brutal Land Reform ...more
Dec 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Admittedly, I've never known that much about Vietnam. Neither the country nor the war that took place there. This story taught me so much and gave a new perspective that isn't commonly found in the United States. I felt so deeply for this family and for the way they fought for the promise of a future by searching their past. The writing is incredibly descriptive without bogging the story down in details. It was masterfully done.
I am recommending this to everyone.
Dec 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This panoramic sweep of recent Viet Nam history highlights the struggles of a family to stay united during war. The story alternates between two viewpoints and two timelines. The main narrator, Huong, looks back on her life in Ha Noi, living with her grandmother while both of her parents fight in the conflict. Huong intersperses her narrative with her grandmother's stories, who was a landowner prior to the communist takeover. These stories of a matriarch trying to help her family survive provide ...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.
Oct 20, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 stars rounded up. Review to follow...
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
This is historical fiction, the story narrated by a Vietnamese grandmother and her granddaughter. The historical and cultural references are very interesting. The hard times and indignities suffered by the grandmother and her family are heartbreaking. The writing is very beautiful. So why couldn't I finish it? I reached the halfway point of the book and just couldn't go on. I regretfully lost interest. I'm picky about the historical fiction that I read. I often feel that the dialogue seems ...more
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.
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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