Author Spotlight: Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai
This week I am spotlighting another one of my favorite authors, Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai. She is originally from Vietnam and sets her beautiful-written historical fiction there. A Vietnamese poet, Quế Mai has written two books in English, The Mountains Sing and her new novel, Dust Child.
What makes Quế Mai’s books stand out? She crafts compelling stories that draw you in as she paints a picture of life in Vietnam during the time periods about which she writes. Her focus is on how the Vietnamese have experienced war, trauma, and communism over the past decades, a perspective not often seen in literature.
My literary salon recently hosted Quế Mai, and she was a phenomenal hit with the group. She read her poetry in English and Vietnamese, she sang a song in Vietnamese, and she spoke at length about what the Vietnamese people have endured. There was not a dry eye in the room when she was done. She also focuses on peace and helping American GIs reconnect with the children they left behind (something that Dust Child centers around).
I recently included Dust Child as one of my Buzz Reads April Top 5 Picks:
Dust Child by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai (historical fiction) – In this stunning tale set in 1969, sisters Trang and Quỳnh leave their village in an effort to help their parents pay off debts and travel to Sài Gòn to become “bar girls,” women who, for a fee, drink and keep company with American GIs. Against her better judgment, Trang gets involved with Dan, an American helicopter pilot. Many years later, Dan, with his wife Linda, decides to return to Vietnam in an effort to make peace with his past. Meanwhile, Phong, the son of a Vietnamese woman and a Black American soldier, sets out on a journey to locate his parents and find a way to escape Vietnam. Abandoned as a baby, Phong grew up ostracized from his peers, called “the dust of life.” Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’s amazing gift is her ability to portray the legacy of war from a very human standpoint – she compels readers to understand the long-lasting effects of conflict on both the land and the thousands upon thousands of people impacted by war. This is a book I won’t soon forget.
Want to see the other 4 Buzz Reads Picks for April? Read it here.
For more book recommendations and bookish thoughts, see Cindy’s monthly Buzz Reads column, her Thoughts from a Page Podcast or follow @ThoughtsFromaPage on Instagram. Find upcoming Conversations from a Page events here.
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