... absorbing, stirring ... Que Mai contains her saga with a poet’s discipline, crafting spare and unsparing sentences, and uplifts it with a poet’s antenna for beauty in the most desolate circumstances. She evokes the landscape hauntingly, as a site of loss so profound it assumes the quality of fable ... Through her depiction of sympathetic characters suffering under a repressive regime, Que Mai offers us in The Mountains Sing a novel that, in more than one sense, remedies history.
Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai has created a luminous, complex family narrative ... Quế Mai [has] an astute and graceful ability to sustain contradictory truths about war, displacement, aesthetic representations, and human nature ... Most importantly, the novel helps all of us see 'the enemy' not as abstract or demonic, but corporeal, even familial ... In depicting the dire consequences of war and Marxist ideology, which forced citizens and family members to become either traitors or patriots, The Mountains Sing affirms the individual's right to think, read, and act according to a code of intuitive civility, born out of Vietnam's fertile and compassionate cultural heritage.
Grandmother Dieu Lan is a memorable character ... At times, because of the number of characters, fast narrative pace and alternating points of view that go back-and-forth in time, it can be hard to keep track of what is happening when. Dieu Lan has six children, multiple siblings, and various adversaries and allies throughout her life, and some secondary characters are more vividly rendered than others. However, Nguyen’s poetic descriptions and deep affection for her characters allow the reader to feel for the Tran family’s many vicissitudes.
Through its women's language, the novel is a sumptuous feast of Vietnamese folklore and proverbs which chuckle with grim humor of a people forged by joy in the face of struggle ... Through her characters' voices, Mai's is direct and urgent in her anti-war beliefs ... It could be said that The Mountains Sing's single flaw is that Grandmother Dieu Lan is just too perfect. However, this misunderstands the novel's mode as part family saga, part eulogy. The granddaughter's veneration of her grandmother is culturally bound ... True, Mai's novel lacks the intrigue and the restless struggle for identity that makes Viet Than Nguyen's works so page-grippingly tumultuous. But Mai's work offers us something equally significant. Despite the famines, the bombings, and executions, The Mountains Sing maintains a sense of the sublime on every page. Mai's gentle prose always comes back to Grandma Dieu Lan's enduring harmony with the land, her history, and all of humankind.
Her text is embroidered with poetic phrasings ... The book is also distinctly Vietnamese ... this...lends a rich cultural texture to the story, giving Western readers a feel for Vietnamese society ... Despite the tragedies and suffering strewn throughout the story, The Mountains Sing, as the title suggests, is positive and hopeful, looking forward to a better future ... the positive outlook surprised me, given the suffering of the characters during years of disaster and war. Once again, I was impressed with the toughness of the Vietnamese. They face profound adversity with a stalwart steadiness unmatched by any other nation I know of. I came away at the end of the book with a new appreciation for the courage and resourcefulness of the Vietnamese.
... fascinating ... Quế Mai is an acclaimed Vietnamese poet, and her vivid images, along with the simplicity of her prose, make the novel propulsive and haunting in its depiction of a deep, nuanced landscape ... While many recent novels from authors like Ocean Vuong and Viet Thanh Nguyen give glimpses of the Vietnamese American experience, The Mountains Sing offers a tale of Vietnamese history through a Vietnamese lens: neighbors caring for and turning against each other, families split apart by war and attempts at reunification on various scales ... Hương and Diệu Lan are remarkably drawn characters. They’re complex, likable, flawed women, and each is searching to connect with family and understand her community and history. Their pain and joy make the novel and landscape sing.
Her writing is gorgeous and vivid. As you read, you smell the cooking pots and incense around the characters, you run with them, hide with them, feel the searing pain in their bare feet, mourn with them ... the story is buoyed, too, by the family’s extraordinary resilience ... This book is so devastating in places as to be unbearable, but then the flow of the writing and the story brings you onto a wave of hope. Then you ride the resilience to the next trough, and so on, until you are nearing the end, wistfully, wishing to stick around longer to witness a good life for the adult Huong.
This engrossing family saga, both Quế Mai’s debut novel and her first book in English, provides a fresh, and ultimately uplifting, perspective on the American-Vietnamese war ... By telling the stories of what happened to ordinary people during this troubled time in Vietnamese history, their memories are kept alive and they can live on through their descendants. It’s a message of comfort but also of hope for the future[.]
The compelling characters and realistic plot in The Mountains Sing make it difficult to remember it’s not a memoir ... while the dialogue is generally well-executed, certain exchanges may seem a bit awkward. These moments don’t affect the novel’s larger value, however. Que Mai opens a window into the other side of a controversial war, and we would do well to consider the lessons her characters teach.
An engrossing story of family, adversity, war, loss, and triumph ... Recalling Min Jin Lee and Lisa See, Nguyen displays a lush and captivating storyteller’s gift as she effortlessly transports readers to another world, leaving them wishing for more. This may be Nguyen’s first novel published here, but one can only hope it will not be the last.
Nguyễn’s lyrical, sweeping debut novel...brilliantly explores the boundary between what a writer shares with the world and what remains between family. This brilliant, unsparing love letter to Vietnam will move readers.
For all the loss Nguyễn depicts, though, her story is invitingly and gracefully told. She is particularly adept at weaving in folktales and aphorisms to create a vivid sense of place. Hương’s love for her homeland is complicated by her family’s struggle and her refusal to see Americans as pure evil ... punctuated by a final twist that challenges her notions of love and family. The novel lapses into sentiment at times, but it mainly honors the complexity of its setting. A richly imagined story of severed bonds amid conflict.