By Uyen Nicole Duong
P.O. Box 400818
Las Vegas, NV 89140
“As a young girl, I did not feel the need to learn the mi origin of my name. It did not help solidify my sense of aesthetics, decorum or the business of the soul. I thought, instead, of a note on my piano. Mi-mi-mi-mi. I equated the mi sound with pure, vibrating sounds that began with the closing and opening of the lips. When the lips were gently brought together and then opened upon a breath, the air brushed slightly outward, and the sound was delivered with the softness of a caress.
From the beginning of my existence, I was a child in love with sounds.” (p.152)
As a reader in love with the lyrical qualities of language I found this book to be a feast of earthly and heavenly delights, a series of impressionist paintings, a symphony of sounds. Even when the tragic sacrifice of a deep and passionate love to the exigent circumstances of war and politics caused me to indulge in a vigorous cry, I rejoiced in the beauty of the story. For life is like that, both brutal and sweet. The author retells a portion of Vietnamese history from the perspective of four generations of women: women who are beautiful, women who sing, women who dream and see spirits, women who fight like warriors and a girl who dances the twist, sings Beethoven, plays Chopin on the piano and eventually studies law in America. On a business trip for her American law firm the narrator eventually returns to her homeland where she learns some harsh truths, confronts the magnitude of her loneliness and finds, where she least expects it, the promise of redemption for herself and the souls of the generations that went before her.
The plot is complex and the author reveals it in layers, creating then relieving suspense in a rhythmic pattern. Her characters are both real and ethereal. She lets us see their faces, hear their voices and smell their fragrances. She lets us into their dreams. She also describes the land itself in a way that transports the reader to the time and place of each chapter. I recommend the reader begin this book with plenty of time ahead for once you begin you won’t want to put it down and there are portions you will probably want to reread. Also after you’ve finished you’ll need some time to recover from the emotional impact, the feeling that you’ve just lived through something both beautiful and tragic.
Sandra Shwayder Sanchez, reviewer