If I Had Two Lives

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 16 Apr 2019

Member Reviews

Thanks to Europa Editions and NetGalley for the Advance Review Copy in exchange for an honest review. 

This novel takes place in both Vietnam and United States. The young and unnamed narrator joins her mother in a detainment camp where she is being held as a dissident. Her mother is physically and emotionally distant, so the little girl is looked after by a soldier who becomes a father figure to her. The story later moves to the United States where the narrator, now in her 20s forms a new set of dysfunctional and abusive relationships. 

Yeah, I dunno. This book just wasn’t for me at all. I hate not knowing any character names and the characters themselves were almost universally unlikeable. The relationships in the book are complicated, abusive and depressing. This book made me feel uncomfortable, tense and emotionally drained.  

The author has done a great job of capturing the experience of the narrator and her sense of loss, rootlessness and loneliness. Maybe I just wasn’t in the right head space to read it, but it wasn’t for me.
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I had picked this book up solely for its subject matter as it follows a young woman from her childhood in a military encampment Vietnam for a new life in the United States – the two lives referred to in the title – and an examination of what we can and can’t leave behind when we try to turn the page.

It sounded like my kind of book and there is certainly much to enjoy here but this is a novel more about trauma and its legacy rather than a clash of cultures. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy this – I did – but it’s important to note the pain on the pages as it isn’t highlighted in the marketing, which feels a little dishonest. 

There’s a very languid entrancing storytelling to the young woman’s childhood and her friendship with a far more disadvantaged young girl that contrasts sharply with scenes of abuse and neglect, and that juxtaposition is pretty interesting if unsettling to read. But the book’s success comes in the show rather than tell of how this trauma continues to manifest itself in the woman’s decisions as she tries to leave her past behind for her new life in the States.
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This is possibly the first book I've read and not known anyones name which feels weird. It's also one of the few books where I've disliked every single character, which I have a feeling was the intention. 

Set between Vietnam and the States this is a story about the various layers of relationships. The complicated layers of relationships. 

While I didnt like any of the characters, while I didnt bond with anyone at all and they all remain nameless to me, I actually quite enjoyed this. Its beautifully written and I felt transported to any other time, another place. It didnt blow me away though, hence the three stars.
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Lyrical storytelling about a daughter and a mother by Abbigail Rosewood. This is remarkable storytelling about pain and longing. There are elements of war and psychological pain as well and one trying to find one's true self. I immediately pre-ordered this for my own Vietnamese mother, who isn't a ghost to me, but who I miss every day.
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This story was interesting but it wasn't for me. I thought it missed some deeper meaning. There was a lot of facts and not enough description of how the protagonist felt. A lot happened to her and it was like it flew right pass her head.🙁
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The book opens in 1998 Vietnam, when the 7-yr old narrator is reunited with her mother at a Vietnamese military camp, where the mom might be some kind of political dissident? All the girl's relationships throughout the story are extreme: from abusive and obsessive to abject neglect. As a child the girl's only companions are a soldier who tutors her, and a traumatized little girl she befriends and creates havoc with. Part Two takes place years later in the US, when at the age of 24 she replaces her soldier with a raunch-talking lawyer neighbor; and the little girl and her rapey father with an unstable older woman and her husband that she finds in Montauk. Author Abbigail Rosewood, who came to America from Vietnam herself at the age of 12, captures viscerally the anguish of being stuck between cultures, the language barriers and isolation. I think the editors could have done a better job of giving her narrator a consistently non-native English speaking voice, instead of the very rare and thus jarring instances of "her angular jaws" and "he took the straw in his mouth and drained the teacup," personally I think it would have made sense to include more elements of linguistic Vietnamese. 

Reading this had me uncomfortably on edge, there was a murmuring undercurrent of distress and potential violence throughout, and the characters were all so unstable it was exhausting. Random grabbing of someone's hair in a fist mid-conversation, inappropriately brutal language in an otherwise benign setting, a grown woman attempting repeatedly to stroke butterfly wings; also I was distracted throughout by clumsy disconnects, random mentions that led nowhere, gratuitous perversions, and all the bedwetting - how could these people possibly have enough clean linens and mattresses to manage?! I love a well-written psychological thriller; Joyce Carol Oates is my favorite author, I can enjoy the gore and terror she presents and admire her imagination, creativity and research skills. In contrast, this comes across as a boundary-pushing ruthless and superficial word salad a la crisis-borne confessional. I hope Abbigail Rosewood (or Nguyen Dang Hai Anh) is okay.
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This Is such an emotional real
We meet the narrator of this novel in Vietnam as she is there to meet her mother who is living in a military camp. She’s there for her own protection since she works as an energy consultant and not everyone in the country agree with what she does. This is a country where control of the people is paramount.

The daughter is looked after by a soldier who has more time to spend with her. It was really sad to see the breakdown of the relationship and the desperate need of a child to seek love from her own mother and not really get it . However what the child doesn’t know is that the mother is only cold and distant as it has been the only way to save them both. She does form a close friendship with another girl, but then has to leave her too when she manages to be smuggled out to America.

A new life beckons. And this is when we see her desperate journey of trying to fit in to  a new homeland. She tries to connect with home and news of her mother. This is a sad and tricky time for her and it was interesting to see how she coped and what she went through. I was pleased when she met Lilah !

This is certainly a tale of loss and love, of heartbreak and wanting to fit in, be a part of something. It’s emotional on so many levels too. Add to that cultural differences, politics and a wide gap between freedom and duty and it’s hard to imagine.

Quite a novel. One that has ripples long after you’ve finished reading it.
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y mother had no daughter. It was her gift to me.

The novel begins in Vietnam as our young narrator is reunited with her mother, living under protection inside a military camp after she comes to the dangerous attention of the Prime Minister for her work as an energy consultant “bringing electricity to hundreds of districts in Vietnam”. Angering those corrupted by greed who would rather abuse the funds by “buying defunct equipment” keeping the wealth for themselves,her only option had been to seek refuge, leaving behind her daughter. Her lieutenant friend saves her, but she must remain loyal to the President. Cassette tapes were their means of communication during the separation but now she is living with her mother among other families under military protection as well. Lonely, she spends her time being cared for by ‘my soldier’, there to take care of her every need, emotional and otherwise, more nurturing than her distant mother. Her mother’s overload of information a jumbled mess to her child’s mind, “I wanted only to be held, to press my nose to her stomach,” she feels like a failure, a poor student, worse a bed wetter. To no longer be given away, she promises to be good, oblivious to her mother’s political games, not understanding that the only reason they are alive is because of her mother’s abandonment.

A child of loneliness her entire existence, everything changes when she meets ‘little girl’. The two sometimes merging into one, making up stories for each other, giving funerals for bugs, playing games and sharing in the disgusting shame of the adults. Little girl is destined for poverty and ignorance, and yet she is the deepest, earliest connection to love she will ever know. Their love is a sisterhood that will haunt her for years to come. The past becomes ash when her mother manages to help her escape to the United States to begin her second life leaving behind her best friend.

Part Two or second life to my thinking, she is now a grown adult recalling the punishing years of moving through different homes of friends, families, her mother’s connections in America, never fitting in. Longing for information about her mother “lost in her fiction”, trying to follow Vietnam’s politics, knowing she is alive only through second hand sources, sorting through gossip online, life is again solitary. She meets a woman named Lilah in Montauk, New York, echoing the immediate bond she once shared with ‘little girl’. Pulled into her escapades and ‘affairs’, passion grows between them until their lives merge. Lilah has wounds that fester but her eccentricities and boundless energy hide the sorrow. “I was drawn to her because people are drawn to uncertainty, the abyss.” When around husband Jon, Lilah is less free, diminished somehow. The two become three and she surrenders herself in their hands. This is where the story explores the meaning of friendship, love, all-consuming grief and the maniacal nature of fate. She is between two places always, until tragedy strikes and life comes full circle in Part Three. It is a strange and tragic tale. The defilement of both the narrator and her friend at the start of the novel had me gutted, the horrors always eat away at the children when it comes to politics, don’t they? Hard to read, but closing your eyes changes nothing. It’s a rupture in time, the things that transpire. As a grown woman I certainly don’t make light of how mind numbing it must be to make your way through the world without the nurturing and love of parents. Tragic doing so while moving between two countries, two identities with scars and severe trauma. That is shocking enough, a child hungry for love, connection so much so that she is willing to encompass her best friend’s pain as her own, later learning to be degraded, coming of age expecting nothing as not to feel disappointment. There is another vital character later, her neighbor, and I love how they both act as ghosts in a sense for each other, but come to mean so much more. The author’s take on loss and love hit me between the eyes.  Loss… loss as ‘a fuller experience than love’ opened the floodgates for me. Whoa!

I stayed up late last night, devouring every last page and that is saying a lot as I am recovering from invasive surgery, but I was at the end and it was actually my favorite part. The beginning reads a bit differently than when our narrator is an adult, because it is told through the mist of youth, but it flows.  Yes, read it!

Publication Date: April 19, 2019

Europa Editions
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A novel about a young woman's experiences in Vietnam and America with a focus on themes of identity, loss and love.
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The premise of this sounded like it had great potential - following a young woman from her childhood in a military encampment Vietnam to her eventual move to America but I found the characters hard to care about and the plot points implausible. I get why the main character was supposed to be motivated to make the decisions she did... but I didn't buy it, things felt so forced. Not for me.
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If I had Two Lives is a debut book. While it did take me a while to become invested in the story, the writing was great and it was easy to settle into the flow of it. I didn't know a lot about this book before reading it but I am glad that I checked it out.
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A beautifully literary novel.The heartache of longing of missing our home our roots .Anovel of overcoming so much yet still an empty feeling in your heart.The author has written a gorgeous  novel one that will stay with me. #netgalley #europaeditions,
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A thoughtful and insightful novel, with sentences that shimmer on the page and themes which are both resonant and timely.
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