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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 39

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2020

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller


Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in White society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so Black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her White persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

Did you like this book?