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Flesh by Khanh Ha
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Jul 18, 2012

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4.0 out of 5 stars A lush, poetic tale July 18, 2012
By Elizabeth A. White
Author Khanh Ha's moody and atmospheric debut novel, Flesh, takes place in Annam (modern-day Vietnam) around the turn of the 20th century and follows several years in the life of Tài, a poor, young villager we meet as he and his family are forced to watch the execution by beheading of his father.

Though Tài's father was a bandit, he was respected amongst his people and his killing places upon Tài, now the eldest male in his family though only an early teen, the obligation of preserving the family's honor. To do so, Tài must accomplish two tasks: seek vengeance upon the man who betrayed his father, and unify his father's skull with his body so that he may properly be laid to rest.

Told in a series of almost dream-like reflections by a now septuagenarian Tài, Flesh follows the brutally fast coming of age Tài is forced to endure as he ventures from his sheltered village life out into a city teaming with exotic sights, sounds, and smells. And dangers, as along the way Tài finds both love and peril, learning that the two often go hand in hand and that everything in life requires a price to be paid.

A lush, poetic tale, Flesh takes readers on a journey far beneath the surface of a land most have only glimpsed superficially in clichéd Hollywood films. And though the dialog and character interactions are at times a bit stilted, that's not what you will ultimately take away from Flesh. Where Khanh Ha excels, and what you will be unable to easily shake, are the deeply evocative descriptions of daily life in Annam. From the hand-to-mouth struggle in the villages to stave off disease and starvation to the enticing sensuality of the city's opium dens, Khanh Ha coaxes Tài's world to life in a vibrantly palpable manner.

A boldly confident coming of age story of a young man psychologically scarred by violence and driven by familial loyalty and societally imposed moral obligations, readers willing to venture off the beaten path to an unfamiliar land will find great pleasure exploring Khanh Ha's Flesh.

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