Cover Image: The Mountains Sing

The Mountains Sing

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Member Reviews

Although it is at times hard to read, this is a beautifully written and important novel.  The tale of a grandmother, mother, and daughter from WWII through the Vietnam War and beyond, it encompasses much more than it might appear on the surface.  Told in alternating voices of grandmother and granddaughter, it is the story of so many in Vietnam.  Many of the men in this novel die violently leaving the women to carry on.  It is helpful, perhaps to have some knowledge of Vietnamese history and to be willing to acknowledge the horrors US involvement brought.  The resilience of the Tran women will stick with you as will some of the descriptions, as horrible as they might be, of some of what happened to them.  Dat's story and Minh's too are important.  This is one you need to experience for yourself.  Know that there's a surprise at the end- not what you might be hoping for but a very good one nonetheless.  Thanks to the publisher for the ARC.  An amazing achievement and a must read.  Highly recommend.
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This book left me absolutely speechless. THE MOUNTAINS SING Nguyen Phan Que Mai is a multigenerational saga that follows the Tran family starting in 1920 during the Land Reform as the Communist government rose in the North, and decades later as the Vietnam War comes to a head. 

Having studied the Vietnam War in school, I was never exposed to the other side of the story — the extreme hardships faced by the  Vietnamese people before, during, and after the war, and specifically those residing in the Communist North. This story alternates perspectives between a young girl and her grandmother, and both were equally captivating. Everything about this book is just absolutely poetic and heartbreakingly beautiful — the writing, the setting, the dynamic between the characters. There aren't enough words to express how much I love and admire this book, and how much I recommend everyone to read it. 

This review will be posted to my main platform, www.instagram.com/inquisitivebookworm, on the book's release date: 3/17/20.
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I started reading The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai on February 1st, 2020 and did not finish it, which is why I am not going to rate it. I was excited to read and review this book because the author is Vietnamese and it made me happy that NetGalley, and especially Algonquin, was helping promote diversity in the bookish industry. 

The book starts with the main character telling us about their recently deceased grandmother and the stories she would tell. That alone sounds fascinating, right? Well, every time I sat down and read, I would feel like I was not retaining anything. There are some books that require the readers to reach a certain point to get truly hooked, and I felt that I never got to that point. I mostly read at night, after long days of teaching, and for some reason, I could not focus on this story.

There are alternating perspectives and timelines, which is something I usually love, but the way it was done in this book, it went over my head. I got very confused because I wasn't sure about who was talking or what they were talking about, and I know that I had no clue about Vietnam, but it was deeper than that, it was about the author's narrative style that was too advanced for me. 

Had I read this on vacation or during a time when I could be 100% dedicated to the story, I think I would have been able to finish it and truly value it for what it was, but this experience with it was leading me towards a three or even a two-star rating. I recognize the importance of this book, but it wasn't for me.
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"Somehow I was sure that if people were willing to read each other, and see the light of other cultures, there would be no war on earth".

This novel is a generational story in which there are dual timelines moving back and forth between Grandmother Dieu Lan’s experiences growing up and present day with her first grandchild Huong. This story speaks a tale of the Vietnam war from the eyes of a family in Vietnam instead of the American experience in Vietnam in which we are so used to hearing. This is a story of survival, family, and what it means to rebuild lives. 

I thought the dynamic between the grandmother and Huong was absolutely beautiful. As a reader you could 100% feel the love between the two of them. There was also no restriction as to what the grandmother would do for anyone in her family. 

Overall, I enjoyed this story; however, I feel that this novel read more like a memoir and at times I felt myself not fully engaged in the story. 

Thank you to NetGalley/Algonquin Books for allowing me to read an ARC of this book.
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"I realize that blood that is shed can't make blood flow again in other people's veins." This powerful quote comes from a man named Minh who grew up in North Vietnam, was a victim of the Land Reform in the 50's, immigrated to South Vietnam, and was conscripted to fight for the South in the late 60's. He was the oldest of six children and his niece Huong is one of our narrators along with the family matriarch, Minh's mother Tran Dieu Lan. Experience the turmoil in Vietnam in the 50's and the 70's with these brave women and their family. See the effects of Agent Orange and the forging of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Heartbreaking and thought-provoking. If you loved Pachinko, this book is for you.

Thank you to Alonquin Books and NetGalley for a DRC in exchange for an honest review.
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I have read so many amazing books so far this year, but this one might take the cake. I think this will end up on my favorites of 2020 list. This book was absolutely heartbreaking but so hopeful as well, and I was so moved by the prose. The characters were so real and I just wanted to give them all an endless hug. I loved the multi-generational timeline, and each part of the story felt equally lush and thought out. My heart broke multiple times over for the hardships these characters faced, and I could not believe the trauma that they each experienced. This story was eye opening, and gave a viscerally human perspective on war and violence. It was not an easy read, with the narrative containing continuously triggering content, but I'm so thankful to have read it and to have it broaden my limited perspective.

Thank you to Libro.fm for providing my audio ALC (advanced listening copy), and Netgalley for providing an e-galley in exchange for an honest review. I can't wait for this book to enter the world and to be able to share my thoughts on this incredible novel.
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The Mountains Sing is a sweeping family saga set in Vietnam. I have not had an opportunity to read too much on Vietnam War, so I was glad to be given a chance to read this advance of publication.

Centered around two strong women Tran who was had to leave her home in North Vietnam in the 50’s as the communists began to take over. Years later we are introduced to Huong, Tran’s granddaughter in Ha Noi with the backdrop of the war going on.

Told over two timelines, I found this story gripping at times. The opening chapter Nguyen, drops us right in the middle of the war when Tran is walking Huong to school. On the walk, bombs are dropped and many locals are killed. We learn Huong is living with her grandmother due to Huong’s parents, aunts and uncles are fighting their battle.

The author who was born in Vietnam during the war, tells us a gorgeous story, that is heartbreaking and uplifting. At times I found myself drifting, but in all honesty the chapters were very long at times, and that is not a preference for me.

If you are fans of Pachinko, Homegoing and Americanah I sincerely believe you will love this book. This is definitely in its same canon.

Thank you NetGally and Algonquin Books for an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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A true masterpiece. An epic tale about the trials and tribulations of the Vietnam War. A heartbreaking and heartwarming story that will be with you long after you have turned the last page. It grips you from the very beginning and never lets go. Ngyuen Pham Que Ma is a master of her craft. This is a stunning debut and is easily just as good as On Earth We Are Briefly Gorgeous. This will easily be on my top ten list this year. You don't want to miss this English language debut.
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"Gorgeous. Powerful. Sob." Those are the first words that come to mind when attempting to review this book. It is clear that the author is drawing from her own family's experiences - the plot and the prose is just too powerful to not be based in reality. I am blown away by the amount of hardship this family goes through and the amount of resilience and love they have throughout it all. As an American, it's hard to ignore the role of the U.S. in the 1970s portion of the story, but this book is really a testament to the evil and folly of all war. The humanity and forgiveness that various characters find in their so-called "enemy" proves that goodness can be found on all sides. At the heart of this story, though, are incredibly powerful women, starting with Tran Dieu (Grandma), who sets such a beautiful example for her granddaughter, Huong. The portrayal of their family - especially with so many members missing - is the biggest theme of the book, and has me wanting to call mine and tell them how much I love them. This book is going to stay with me for a long time and will most certainly be on my "favorite books of 2020" list.
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The. Mountains Sing was entertaining, enlightening and interesting.  The author tells the story of her Grandmother and the dry difficult life lead throughout the challenge history of her country - Vietnam.  I found this novel gripping And many nights stayed up later than expected to complete a story.  I loved this novel and at the end was angry at myself for not truly aware of the war, the impact on the people, as well as the difficult events throughout the last century.
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4.5 stars rounded up. 
I was not ready for how emotional this book would make me feel. Not only did I learn so much about a topic that I embarrassingly only knew scant details about, but I also felt a surprisingly deep connection to the characters. I have always enjoyed reading historical fiction and following multigenerational families through stories, so I was already expecting to enjoy this read and it certainly did not disappoint. This story is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and although it broke my heart in certain places, it also filled me with hope.

The Mountains Sing is written simply but beautifully. The pages aren't filled with overly flowery prose, Nguyen writes in a matter-of-fact manner, but the writing is still lyrical and it's not hard to tell that the author is also a poet. I loved how Vietnamese proverbs were liberally sprinkled in the text because it is actually such a big part of their life. The writing made it easy to picture what was unfolding as if it was happening before my eyes, and my heart soared and broke right alongside these characters and what they faced. The story is told in alternating perspectives between Grandma and Guava/Huong. I initially thought I would find the alternating timelines frustrating, especially as we'd get to the end of one chapter and would have to wait until after the next chapter to pick up where we left off, but it somehow immersed me even deeper into this family's life. Admittedly, there were some transition scenes that felt a little clunky and awkward, especially towards the end of the book, but I was too invested to mind very much. 

What I enjoyed most was how personal the writing felt, especially during grandma's chapters. It almost felt as if I was Guava and that she (grandma) was talking directly to me. I could picture myself sitting beside this hardworking, tough-as-nails, take-no-funny-business grandma as she'd talk about the family's history (for some reason I'd always picture us sitting by a fireplace, but that's beside the point)! The strength in her character was so inspiring and I admired her very much.

I think much of the literature we see about the Vietnam War is either from a Western POV or from the Southern Vietnamese perspective, so this was also another unique aspect to the book. We see what happens through the lens of a North Vietnamese family and we experience the seemingly never-ending trials that they faced at the hands of various oppressors -- French, Japanese, American, and from the Vietnamese themselves. Some of the depicted scenes, especially from during the Land Reform, were terrifying and shocking, and I often found myself wiping away angry tears as I made my way through this story. The last few chapters especially had the tears flowing steadily down my face and I was left feeling a weird mixture of heartbreak, relief and happiness.

This is a story filled with heartbreak and so much tragedy, but it is also so incredibly full of heart and hope. I learned so much about Vietnam's history and I would definitely recommend this read, especially if you enjoy reading multigenerational family stories and historical fiction. But really, I'd just recommend this for those who love books that can make you feel all the feels. This is one not to miss!

Thanks to Kelly at Algonquin Books for asking me to be part of the blog tour and for the chance to read an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.
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I do love a multigenerational family saga, and this one does not disappoint. It follows a Vietnamese family from the 1920's, to the Vietnam of today: through the days of colonial rule by France, the rise of the communist party, the land reform that killed millions, the American War, and the reconciliation of the two Vietnams. I was so invested in the grandmother's story of her childhood and the challenges to survive with six children in her young adulthood; there were times I had to put the book down as my heart was breaking, but I could not set it aside for long as I was compelled to see how history would impact each member of this family. For lovers of Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, for readers who want to see history come alive, for people who are curious about Vietnam or are planning to travel there, for lovers of beautiful writing, for all people who see books as a window into our past and future, this book is for you. Thank you to Net Galley for a free advance copy in exchange for an honest review.
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This is an intimate, emotional, and extraordinary story of a family, a country, and a war, told from a perspective we have rarely -- or never -- seen in the West.

The Tran family were landholders in North Vietnam when agrarian reform was brutally implemented, causing them to lose everything: their home, their livelihood, and one another. Told from the perspective of a teenage girl, affectionately known as Guava, her grandmother reveals their past to help her understand their present. As readers, we are brought to successive decades in the 20th century that gradually reveal an epic tale of human survival made possible through love, hope, and stories.

Guava turns to books for comfort, distraction from the hunger and fear caused by war. What sustains her even more is a glimpse of our shared humanity, an understanding that despite the propaganda she is fed, Americans also love their families, and the Japanese, "Like us, they like to cook and eat, and dance, and sing."

To me, this is the most potent and lasting aspect of this beautifully written debut novel. As Guava learns to understand the broader perspective, so do we begin to appreciate a country, its history, complexity, and its people in a new and compassionate light.
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I have never learned that much about the Vietnam War, and what I did learn was certainly from an American perspective, so I was completely engrossed in this book about a Northern Vietnamese family’s experience during the war. 

Though they experienced unimaginable tragedy and trauma, the members of this family, especially Huong and her grandmother, exhibited incredible strength. These were women that I found myself not only loving but admiring as I became more and more enmeshed in their stories.

This is the author’s first book written in English, and the beauty of her expression makes Vietnam come alive in my mind. What an incredible book.
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Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’s book begins in Vietnam just before the American bombings of Hà Nội in 1972.  Trần Diệu Lan, and her granddaughter Hương are forced to leave their home to seek shelter.  At this point, both of Hương’s parents are gone for the war, as well as most of her grandmother’s other children.  Through a tale woven through time, space, and generations we learn not only about Hương’s story but also the perils her grandmother Trần Diệu Lan had gone through and the hardships she faced.  Eventually, parts of the family are reunited and life is rebuilt, but hardships and setbacks always continue.  In this book we get to see the Trần family come together, fight through the atrocities their homeland has been through, and reemerge ready to take on the future.

I will be honest, parts of this book are brutal and difficult to get through.  Part of me is still so shocked about events that take place in this book and how hard life is/was for the characters.  What the author excels at, for me, is being honest in the harshness of life but then coming back and demonstrating how hope can still infiltrate even the ugliest times.  The resilience of the Vietnamese people is highlighted in this story, as well as the will to live and help others.  The absence of greed or vanity for the Trần is so shocking and pure; reading this book made me want to be a better person and taught me to respect what I have.  There are so many lessons to be taught from this book.

I loved the writing style of this book and how it moves in time.  It reads and is told like a memory, only giving more power to the strength and willpower of its characters.  Each character is given their own time to tell their story, but within the larger matrices of the Trần family and Vietnam as a whole.  The development in the writing and the care to details and story flow help to make this story into one that withstands time and crosses boundaries and borders.  This is a book that I want to share with the world.  This story needs to be told.

Overall, you should read this book.  There is so much to learn through the story of the Trần family.  This book gives a new dimension to struggle and hardship and paints the Vietnam War in a completely different view because it is told from the perspective of the people from North Vietnam.  I loved reading a story that told of the travesties of war, created by Americans; this narrative is often not shared.  Thank you, Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai for opening my perspectives of a time that I don’t understand and bringing to light a counter-narrative of an awful time in history.  This book creates so many new lenses with which to think about and view history through.  There are stories in this book that I will not forget and the underlying message of hope and love is one that I will never let go of.  At the end of this book there is one quote that I fell in love with:

“Human lives were short and fragile.  Time and illnesses consumed us, like flames burning away these pieces of wood.  But it didn’t matter how long or short we lived.  It mattered more how much light we were able to shed on those we loved and how many people we touched with our compassion.”

I have this quote taped onto my desk so that everyday I can read it and remember what the real meaning of life is and how important it is to always keep grace and compassion in your mind, in whatever you do.

This is truly a beautiful, touching, and haunting book that you NEED to read
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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 fall of Saigon. Only rarely do we ever learn about the experience of the Vietnamese people, who lived through decades of warfare while decisions about their country’s future are made on other continents. Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’s novel, The Mountains Sing, is the first time I can recall seeing a full story narrated by Vietnamese people and set completely in Vietnam.

Hương serves as a narrator and audience for The Mountains Sing. She narrates the chapters that see her and her grandmother trying to survive and rebuild after American bombings of Hanoi. Her parents and her uncles are all in the south, fighting the Americans and the South Vietnamese army. In other chapters, Hương listens to her grandmother, Diện Lan, as she relates the family history from 1942 to 1972. Once upon a time, the Trần family were well off. They owned farmland in Nghệ An, southwest of Hanoi. They worked the land with their tenant farmers and life was good…until World War II broke out and the Japanese invaded. Although Diện Lan traces her bad luck to her own fortune (as told to her by a palmist), it almost seems like the universe is out to get all of the Trầns. Over the next two decades, Diện Lan loses her parents, barely survives a famine and the Land Reform—only to see her children scattered across the country during what we call the Vietnam War and the North Vietnamese government call the War of Resistance Against the Americans.

The Mountains Sing and Diện Lan move back and forth through time. We see family members lash out at each other before Diện Lan or Hương’s mother or one of her uncles takes us back through the years to reveal what happened to that family member. So, not only does this novel show westerners a side of history we are woefully uneducated about, The Mountains Sing is also a story of redemption, forgiveness, reunion, and a lot of trauma. I loved that Nguyễn is full of complications. Family members can forgive, but they don’t forget. Other family members show us how the dictates of the government drove wedges between family members. Members of the Trần family frequently have to wrestle with the question of siding with their family or bowing to rules about shunning any kind of capitalism (Diện Lan makes money as a trader instead of “honest” work) or ostracising family members who got fought for South Vietnam.

I have a few tiny quibbles about occasional slapdash scene setting and word choice (the author is weirdly fond of the word exquisite). Truth be told, this book could have been longer. There is so much in this book and so many characters that I wish Nguyễn had settled into the narrative a bit more, so that some parts didn’t feel so rushed and so that the setting could feel more lived-in. These quibbles aside, I was fascinated by The Mountains Sing. I’m so glad to finally have a chance to see this history from the other side, the one we Americans were never really told about. It is incredible what the Trầns—and families like them—lived through.
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This multi-generational saga set in Vietnam is told by the alternating voices of Huong and her grandmother.  Huong's parents were enlisted in the Vietnam war.  The grandmother's tales are of an earlier war, and of the "Land Reform" that robbed her of her home and caused her to flee with her children.
I didn't finish reading this in time to nominate it for Library Reads because I had to take breaks due to the sad, heart-breaking scenes which were almost constant.  Something bad happens on almost every page.  It was almost too much for me, yet I kept going back to it, and for the last quarter of the book, I was riveted.
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The writing is clunky and the sentences too simplistic for my writing. Some of the metaphors feel forced. Just not cohesive enough to gain my attention.

DNF at 18%
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This was a beautifully written story. I felt so invested and engaged in the characters and their lives. I will definitely be recommending this to others.
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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. 

Huge thanks to Netgalley, Algonquin Books and Que Mai Phan Nguyen
 for an ARC of The Mountains Sing in exchange for my honest review. .
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