A novel of contemporary Vietnam--billed as ``the first Vietnamese novel ever published in the United States''--by a former Communist turned political dissident whose works have been recently banned in that country. The story is broadly of three women struggling to survive in a northern village and a Hanoi slum. But the narrative is secondary to the evocative descriptions of life under the Communists, of the countryside itself, and of the old customs that still prevail. Narrator Hang, a young woman working in the Soviet Union as an ``exported worker,'' has been summoned to Moscow by her uncle Chinh, who claims to be dying. On the long train journey through the icy Russian landscape, Hang recalls how Chinh, her mother's brother and a dedicated Communist, tore her family apart and destroyed the relationship between her mother and herself. An important Communist, Chinh brutally imposed the land-reform measures in his native village--an act that led to Hang's father fleeing, her redoubtable aunt Tam being impoverished, and her mother becoming a street-vendor in Hanoi. The regime moderates its excesses in time, though it is increasingly corrupt, and Aunt Tam rebuilds the family's wealth so that Hang will not have to suffer- -but she cannot forgive Chinh. Hang, caught between her mother's traditional deference to male relations--she starves Hang in order to provide money for Chinh--and her aunt's bitterness, is finally able to break with the past after her trip to Moscow: ``I can't squander my life tending these faded flowers, the legacy of past crimes.'' Slight, but enriched by vivid characters and telling descriptions of life as it really was in a place of mythic resonances in our own history. A welcome debut.