Dust Child

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Pub Date 06 Apr 2023 | Archive Date 13 Apr 2023

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'Dazzling. Sharply drawn and hauntingly beautiful.' Elif Shafak, Women's Prize-shortlisted author of The Island of Missing Trees

In 1969, two sisters from rural Việt Nam leave their parents' home and travel to the bustling city of Sài Gòn. Soon their lives are swept up in the unstoppable flames of a war that is blazing through their country. They begin working as 'bar girls' in one of the drinking dens frequented by American GIs, forced to accept that survival now might mean compromising the values they once treasured. 

Decades later, two men wander through the streets and marketplaces of a very different Sài Gòn: modern, forward-looking, healing. Phong – the son of a Black American soldier and a Vietnamese woman – embarks on a search to find his parents and a way out of Việt Nam, while Dan, a war veteran, hopes that retracing the steps of his youth will ease the PTSD that has plagued him for decades.

When the lives of these unforgettable characters converge, each is forced to reckon with the explosive events of history that still ripple through their lives. Now they must work out what it takes to move forward in this richly poetic saga from Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai at her very best.

'Dazzling. Sharply drawn and hauntingly beautiful.' Elif Shafak, Women's Prize-shortlisted author of The Island of Missing Trees

In 1969, two sisters from rural Việt Nam leave their parents' home and...

Advance Praise

'Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai will win many more readers with her powerful and deeply empathetic second novel... A heartbreaking tale of lost ideals, human devotion, and hard-won redemption.' Viet Thanh Nguyen, Pulitzer Prizewinning author of The Sympathizer

'Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai will win many more readers with her powerful and deeply empathetic second novel... A heartbreaking tale of lost ideals, human devotion, and hard-won redemption.' Viet Thanh...

Available Editions

EDITION Hardcover
ISBN 9780861545407
PRICE £16.99 (GBP)

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Featured Reviews

This is such a beautifully written and heartbreaking read. It is such a poignant and powerful novel that I don't think anything I say about this book will do it justice, it is honestly breathtaking. 5 stars isn't enough

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What a lovely book. The story is set in the Vietnam war and is about the outcome of children conceived by American GIs and Vietnamese women. Unfortunately these children do not fit into Vietnamese life and are called “dust children” which is a derogatory term. The book centres around the aftermath of the war and one person, Phong, to know the history of his birth and whether his father knew that his Vietnamese girlfriend, Trang, was pregnant when he left Vietnam. Phong is half Vietnamese and half black. Phong’s life has been difficult being brought up by a single mother and he decides he needs to know his background. At the same time an American Veteran goes to Vietnam with a mission to try and seek out these “dust children” and reunite them, if possible, with their American families. Not an easy task by any means. The story becomes a mix of happy and sad. Dan met Trang and they lived together and were very happy until Dan’s mood caused problems. PTSD is now the name of what he was suffering. Dan went back to the States knowing Trang was pregnant but could not deal with this due to his mental state. Forty years later he returns to Vietnam with his wife to try and lay to rest his PTSD. His wife did not know about his history with Trang and the story evolves around him finding Phong and how their lives will entwine. Will Phong go back to the States, will he remain in Vietnam. The book is written very sympathetically and I really enjoyed the characters and how people can forgive the past and help future generations of their past. A extremely thoughtful book

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Poetic, wistful read that took me to a place I knew nothing about, 60s Vietnam, and in loved the amazing characters I met along the way.
An author I will look out for in the future too!

Thanks to Netgalley and the publishers for letting me read an advance copy of the book.

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*4.5 stars*

Something not often spoken about in regard to the Vietnam war, is the discrimination faced by Amerasians born from wartime unions between American men and Vietnamese women. Dust Child rectifies that.

Our story begins with Phong, who’s mother leaves him outside an orphanage where he is taken in by a nun who smothers him with love and care, but she’s the only one that does, because Phong will discover that his dark skin and black curly hair mark him out as the child of a black American soldier and a Vietnamese mother - and he’s treated like dirt by everyone else that he meets.

In 1969 we meet sisters Trang and Quỳnh, who are working on their parents farm, but are distressed at their parents level of debt, some of it due to medical bills, so they decide to travel to Sài Gòn and take jobs as ‘bar girls’ drinking with American GI’s, something which often led to more sexually explicit acts, and in turn more pay. However, for Trang, (now known as Kim) a GI called Dan becomes much more than a client and they fall head over heels in love.

In the present, Dan and his wife Linda are about to embark on a journey to Vietnam, where Linda hopes that Dan will be able to put some of his ghosts to rest, and hopefully cure the horrific nightmares that he still suffers from to this day. Problem is, Linda doesn’t know what’s really on Dan’s mind, because when he left Vietnam he left behind one very pregnant Kim, and it’s his hope that he can find her and their child, and make good what he should have done all those years ago.

Beautifully written with terrific characters and a strong sense of place, DUST CHILD evoked many emotions, shedding a light on a consequence of war that is sadly often overlooked. Very highly recommended.

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This novel tells the story of 3 people affected by the Vietnam War and its aftermath. Trang is a woman who leaves her rural village with her sister to travel to Saigon to work as a "tea girl" servicing American soldiers. Dan is an American soldier who has a relationship with Trang and leaves her pregnant when he returns to America. Phong is a "dust child", the derogatory term for a child born of a Vietnamese woman and American man, in his case, a black man. Phong is left at an orphanage by his mother and struggles to deal with prejudice and to have questions about his background answered. Dan travels back to Vietnam with his wife to try to deal with his PTSD and deal with the secrets he has been hiding. In addition to being a great story populated with sympathetic and deftly drawn characters, this was a beautifully-written and emotionally-resonant novel.

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What an amazing depiction of the effects of war and its repercussions on the human soul. I knew relatively little about the Vietnam war, and certainly never knew or thought about the consequences for mixed race offspring as a result of relationships between the American GIs and Vietnamese locals during this time. The title refers to the name given to these progeny. The attitude towards these children in Vietnam, and particularly those with mixed African American parentage is horrifying. With no hope of a successful future in Vietnam these children have also virtually been abandoned by American authorities who had made it increasingly difficult for these children to emigrate to the USA. What I found most impressive was that the author made me understand the viewpoint of every major character in the plot , their reasons for what they did and how they felt. It really made me think whether I would have done anything different in their situation. The depiction of how war, fear and desperation can change a person’s personality and morals was totally convincing. This is clearly a topic very close to the author’s heart and her passion for its accurate portrayal was clear. Her research and execution of this difficult subject is admirable and faultless. This book has had a huge impact on me and I have thought of little else since I finished reading it several days ago - very rarely does a book have that effect on me. That is surely recommendation enough in itself. I am very grateful to Netgalley and the publisher for allowing me the opportunity to read this ARC.

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This book might be on its way to one of the best books read this year. I cannot even explain what I loved so much, the story of the girls that even if it doesn't end the fairy tale way, it's way better than I expected. All the time I was expecting something to happen, it didn't happen the way I imagined it so I loved that. I learned so much from the book, even if it's just fiction and I feel like everyone has to read this book.

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I loved this book! Once again Nguyen Phan Que Mai has knocked it out of the park. I was totally immersed in the lives and worlds of these characters and didn't want their stories to end. I found all of the central characters sympathetic and easy to connect with, and the weaving together of their stories and the different time-frames in the novel was done so skilfully that I stayed 'in' the story the entire time. A thoroughly enjoyable read.

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Wow… just wow. Here is another unforgettable novel from the author of The Mountains Sing. Beautifully written and very compelling.
What happened during the Vietnam War cannot be justified. Yet we gain an understanding of both sides as multiple sides are highlighted. I love how the storylines eventually come together.

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