An engrossing, prismatic portrait of first- and second-generation Vietnamese American life.


In this decades-spanning novel, a family of Vietnamese refugees makes a home in New Orleans.

Hương, who’s pregnant, arrives in New Orleans in 1978 disoriented and overwhelmed but clear on one thing: She must get in touch with Công, her husband, who was inexplicably left behind when she and their young son boarded the boat that carried them away from Vietnam and the encroaching Communist regime. As she, her son, and her new baby settle into the Versailles Arms, an apartment building on a polluted bayou populated entirely by Vietnamese refugees, she sends letter after letter to their old addresses in Vietnam and constantly replays the moment of their unexpected parting in her head. “How had Công’s hand slipped? she kept asking herself. That was the only explanation. The only possible one.” It’s only when Công sends her a brief postcard back—“Please don’t contact me again” is the jist of it—that denial gives way to grief and a steely resolve to protect her two sons, no matter what. Over the following years, the novel moves fluidly among each of the family members’ perspectives: Tuấn, her elder son, grows from a boy gentle with animals to a teenager trying to prove his toughness to the members of a Vietnamese American gang called the Southern Boyz. Bình—or Ben, as he insists on being called, never having known Vietnam—loves to read, slowly realizes that he’s gay, and eventually embarks on a transoceanic voyage of his own. Hương begins dating a kind car salesman named Vinh, but all three family members are haunted by Công’s absence. Hương tells the boys early on that their father is dead, a lie that plants the seeds for familial rupture later on. Debut author Nguyen movingly portrays the way adopted homes can become as cherished and familiar as ancestral ones (Hương on New Orleans: “She realized this had become her city, the place she lived but also a place that lived in her”) but also the truth that new loves can never quite heal old wounds. Seeing her sons, so like their father, growing away from her, Hương thinks: “It’s always like she’s losing him again—to the world, to life, to fate.”

An engrossing, prismatic portrait of first- and second-generation Vietnamese American life.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 9780593317952

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2021

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A flabby, fervid melodrama of a high-strung Southern family from Conroy (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline), whose penchant for overwriting once again obscures a genuine talent. Tom Wingo is an unemployed South Carolinian football coach whose internist wife is having an affair with a pompous cardiac man. When he hears that his fierce, beautiful twin sister Savannah, a well-known New York poet, has once again attempted suicide, he escapes his present emasculation by flying north to meet Savannah's comely psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein. Savannah, it turns out, is catatonic, and before the suicide attempt had completely assumed the identity of a dead friend—the implication being that she couldn't stand being a Wingo anymore. Susan (a shrink with a lot of time on her hands) says to Tom, "Will you stay in New York and tell me all you know?" and he does, for nearly 600 mostly-bloated pages of flashbacks depicting The Family Wingo of swampy Colleton County: a beautiful mother, a brutal shrimper father (the Great Santini alive and kicking), and Tom and Savannah's much-admired older brother, Luke. There are enough traumas here to fall an average-sized mental ward, but the biggie centers around Luke, who uses the skills learned as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam to fight a guerrilla war against the installation of a nuclear power plant in Colleton and is killed by the authorities. It's his death that precipitates the nervous breakdown that costs Tom his job, and Savannah, almost, her life. There may be a barely-glimpsed smaller novel buried in all this succotash (Tom's marriage and life as a football coach), but it's sadly overwhelmed by the book's clumsy central narrative device (flashback ad infinitum) and Conroy's pretentious prose style: ""There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory. I speak now of the sun-struck, deeply lived-in days of my past.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1986

ISBN: 0553381547

Page Count: 686

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

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A book begging to be read on the beach, with the sun warming the sand and salt in the air: pure escapism.


Three woman who join together to rent a large space along the beach in Los Angeles for their stores—a gift shop, a bakery, and a bookstore—become fast friends as they each experience the highs, and lows, of love.

Bree is a friendly but standoffish bookstore owner who keeps everyone she knows at arm’s length, from guys she meets in bars to her friends. Mikki is a settled-in-her-routines divorced mother of two, happily a mom, gift-shop owner, and co-parent with her ex-husband, Perry. And Ashley is a young, very-much-in-love bakery owner specializing in muffins who devotes herself to giving back to the community through a nonprofit that helps community members develop skills and find jobs. When the women meet drooling over a boardwalk storefront that none of them can afford on her own, a plan is hatched to divide the space in three, and a friendship—and business partnership—is born. An impromptu celebration on the beach at sunset with champagne becomes a weekly touchpoint to their lives as they learn more about each other and themselves. Their friendship blossoms as they help each other, offering support, hard truths, and loving backup. Author Mallery has created a delightful story of friendship between three women that also offers a variety of love stories as they fall in love, make mistakes, and figure out how to be the best—albeit still flawed—versions of themselves. The men are similarly flawed and human. While the story comes down clearly on the side of all-encompassing love, Mallery has struck a careful balance: There is just enough sex to be spicy, just enough swearing to be naughty, and just enough heartbreak to avoid being cloying.

A book begging to be read on the beach, with the sun warming the sand and salt in the air: pure escapism.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-778-38608-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harlequin MIRA

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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