Transportive armchair travel if you’re willing to follow along just for the sights.


A young Vietnamese native returns to her motherland looking for answers only to find that the past does not yield its secrets easily.

In the early 1990s, Maia Trieu, a 23-year-old Vietnamese expat, is on a mission to her native country, seemingly charged by the collective diaspora to do one thing: help the Independent Vietnam Coalition contact her great aunt. The expats believe that Maia’s relative, a former military commander, is capable of instigating insurgency in the Central Highlands. While that might be Maia’s primary agenda, one she has even received a grant for, she is also in Vietnam to seek answers: What prompted her mother to stay behind in Vietnam while Maia escaped along with her dad? Who is left of her family who might have the answers and the closure she craves? In this haunting if meandering debut, Maia travels the countryside following the trail of breadcrumbs on the way to her mission: “ ‘Whatever you do,’ the Coalition instructed, ‘be at the foot of the Vong Phu Mountain on the first night of the full moon.’ ” Along the way, Maia attracts a ragtag group of fellow travelers, including an American journalist whose brother served in Vietnam. Lam blends the past with the present, fluidly teasing out strands of narrative, but at times the plot is as hazy as the smoky, incense-filled air in the temples that Maia visits. The meditative novel functions best as travelogue and food diary: “The smell of deep-fried shrimp and mung bean patties from a bánh cuốn stall filled the air. The vendor in a lilac đồ bộ waved customers to her footstools and knee-high tables as she served plates of steamed rice rolls filled with pork mince and wood ear mushrooms, garnished with blanched bean sprouts, fresh mint leaves, and chili fish sauce.” Generous doses of folklore—the tale of Hòn Vộng Phu, a wife who turns into stone waiting for her husband’s return, is a recurring theme here—and poetry add ballast to an otherwise cloudy narrative.

Transportive armchair travel if you’re willing to follow along just for the sights.

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-59709-464-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Red Hen Press

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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