The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai

Updated: Sep 5

Rating - 10/10


I saw this book on the gram (Instagram) earlier this year and said to myself, I have got to read this! I love reading books based in various parts of the world, especially if the writer is female and actually from the country the book is based on, it makes for a richer and true telling of the story, also Việt Nam is one of those countries that has been on my bucket list to visit for ages! When I saw this book being posted on Instagram as a free giveaway by a fellow book blogger, I thought why not enter. I always enter these things and never actually win anything, except this time I WON!! I couldn’t believe it, I’ve never won anything in my life! So I would love to give a huge thanks to @GetLitBookClub on Instagram for choosing me for her giveaway, I was so excited when I received this book that I had to jump it to the top of my reading list, and boy let me tell you, it DID NOT disappoint - hence my very rare and high rating! First 10/10 in 2020 y'all.

The Mountains Sing is an engrossing multi-generational story that follows the Trần family and is set against an epic backdrop of the Việt Nam War. Trần Diệu Lan, who was born in 1920 in the Nghệ An Province was tragically forced to flee her family's ancestral farm with her six children during the Land Reform as the Communist government rose rapidly in North Việt Nam. Many years later, in Hà Nội, her young grand-daughter Hương comes of age during turbulent times while her parents and uncles head down the Hồ Chí Minh trail to fight in a war that not only tears her entire family apart, but her country as well. The Mountains Sing is heaping with rich Vietnamese tradition and language. This story shows us that even with the devastating and heavy tragedy of the Việt Nam war, there is always room for hope, forgiveness and kindness.

Words cannot begin to describe the epic-ness of this richly told story. This is one of the most heartbreaking and beautiful stories I have truly read in a long time. As soon as I read that first page, I knew this would be an amazing story and I rarely ever get that feeling when reading a book. I cannot stress enough how important it was that this book was written by a Vietnamese writer! I have read a few books that have depicted the Việt Nam war, but never had I read a book that truly delves into the heart of the Vietnamese people such as this one. From the very first page you are 100% transported into the lush mountains, rich culture, and all your senses are awoken by Quế Mai’s honest and heartfelt words. This is exactly what made this story extra special. This was one of the most refreshing books I’ve read in a while. Whenever you read a novel about the Việt Nam war, it is always told from the westerners’ point of view, and finally, here we have this true story of what it was like from the other side. It is always important to get two sides to every story and now I can say that I have that from reading The Mountains Sing with the backdrop of the Việt Nam war.

The Mountains Sing is told from two protagonists, the grandmother Trấn Diệu Lan, and the granddaughter Hủỏng. When the grandmother tells her story it is told between 1930-1970, from when she was a young girl and tells us of the many years of the war from the start of when the Communist party begins to grow in the North. We follow her through her adult life as her family faces the tragedies that this turbulent time creates. The story of the granddaughter is told from the 1970s onward, when the Americans are now in Việt Nam, she faces major devastation being in a country at war, as well as experiencing both her parents going away to fight in the war. Hủỏng and her grandmother Diệu Lan are trying to survive and live a somewhat strange unstable life during the uncertain circumstances with the ongoing war. Both stories from both points of views were excellently written by the author. Quế Mai delicately creates a sense of what the Vietnamese people had gone through for all these years; the Japanese, the French, the separation between North and South, then the Americans, coming into their country, forcing their ideologies, and completely destroying lives, their land and their home. One can only imagine what that would do to a person psychologically. Trấn Diệu Lan - the grandmother, I would say had the hardest life. In her young adult life, she went through pain, uncertainty, death, and suffering. Diệu Lan then continued on in her 50s and pushed through to take care of her young adolescent granddaughter, while her parents were off fighting the Americans. You really understand the meaning of resilience and hope through the grandmother’s eyes and story. I liked that we followed Hủỏng the granddaughter, through her early childhood to her young adult life in this book. It is a true coming-of-age story. She pretty much grew up during a war, lost loved ones, and had to dodge attacks and bombs from the Americans from a very young age. I cannot tell you how heartbreaking this book was to read, but also, after each page you read, you were filled with hope, understanding and knowledge through these resilient and humble characters.

I adored the Vietnamese language that was sprinkled throughout this book, the stories of their ancestors, the tradition, the food and atmosphere, also the way that everyone calls each other Auntie, Uncle, or Brother, even though they’re not related to each other. I didn’t know that was a thing in Việt Nam, it’s definitely a thing in the African culture and a few others, so it’s quite comforting to know that no matter how far apart different cultures may be to one another, we all still have some qualities in common. The setting of the book was absolutely stellar. It was saddening due to the war, but also exquisitely lush and beautiful. For the few days that I was reading this book, I was completely transported to Việt Nam during the turbulent years that destroyed their beautiful land. It was amazing to read a book by a Vietnamese author, even though it was fiction, you still got a sense of what it was like for the people of that country and the famine, war, pain, class struggles and hardships they went through. As I read all the different locations and villages in the book, I would get my google maps out and searched the various locations to see where exactly it was because I’m a nerd like that. Haha I loved that this book transported you from the peaceful and humble north rural fields, through the epic mountains, and into the buzzing cities of Hà Nội, the network of roads of the Hồ Chí Minh trail, and eventually the trendy south city of Hồ Chí Minh which was previously referred to as Saïgon. I Loved it! Even though this book had quite a lot of characters in it, I actually never struggled at all to remember who was who! There were many uncles, and aunties, and nieces, and neighbors and various characters. I normally hate books with a million characters in it because I always feel that you never get a sense of who they are, but my goodness Quế Mai pulled this book off very well. I knew what each character was going through, who they were to the story, and how important each role played in creating this incredible story, and I never once felt lost or annoyed with any of the characters. Quế Mai is a true talent.

I honestly could not find a single flaw in this book, personally, I adored it. I think it was the mere fact that Quế Mai completely transported me into her world through her incredible characters, their immense struggles, their losses and their beloved war torn country. I was in it, like I delved into this book and was right there with them. So for me, even when I was only on page 3 of this book, I knew this was a 10/10 rating, and I knew I was going to love it. I will remember this book for years to come.

This book is a homage to all the struggles the Vietnamese people went through during the many many years in this time period. It is a celebration of their rich culture, their resilience and their history. It is a story of sorrow, loss, hope, healing, and a longing for peace.

Quế Mai has written eight books in fiction, non fiction and poetry. The Mountains Sing is her first novel and her first book that she wrote in English and took her 7 years to complete. Quế Mai has become the first Vietnamese citizen whose novel in English is published to international acclaim. Quế Mai said this quote below:

“Hương embodies my own experiences growing up in Vietnam and witnessing the war's devastating effect. But more than that, she represents a generation of Vietnamese who have no choice but inherit the trauma of war brought home by returning soldiers.”

I am honestly so proud of her hard work and the labor it took to create this incredible book in English, and would love to thank her for bringing this book to us. I now cannot wait to visit Vietnam in the future! This is an essential read for anyone wanting to learn more about Việt Nam and the war from the other perspective, any Vietnamese- American/British/Australians/any mix who want to understand their heritage, and for anyone who wants an amazing, epic story to read.

Read this, you won’t regret it!

Click here to learn more about the author Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai : http://www.nguyenphanquemai.com/about.html

Genre: Historical Fiction | Coming-Of-Age | War Story

Originally Published: March 17, 2020

The perfect theme song to compliment this book for me, would be: ‘To Build a Home’ by The Cinematic Orchestra




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