Who is Anh beyond her surrogate motherhood? Unfortunately, Pin gives us little opportunity to find out ... Yet Wandering Souls is more than a story of sacrifice and familial duty. The author has greater ambitions, first signaled in the intricate story structure she builds ... What emerges is something special — a polyvocal novel, an essay on inherited trauma and a quiet metafiction about telling stories we don’t own. At times, it’s unclear exactly where Pin is going... but we follow because Pin’s novel is less about the story and more about how the story is made.
Moving and meticulously researched ... A piercing saga of innocence being rapidly replaced by hard-won experience ... Wandering Souls is written in clean, precise prose that is both highly readable and restrained, imbuing the plot with a clear-headed narrative acumen impressive for a debut novel. If the matter-of-factness occasionally veers into slightly flat affect, because of a self-effacing style and refusal to capitulate to sentimentality, this seems due to Pin’s sensitive handling of historical material rather than a dearth of empathy or genuine emotion. On the contrary, Wandering Souls is a poignant saga with its grieving, beating heart firmly in the right place, and heralds the arrival of an ambitious and promising new talent.
Subtle and gripping ... Moving ... Straightforwardly written, the book seems almost deceptively simple at first ... There is...a literal wandering ghost ... The ghost chapters didn’t really work for me — for one thing, the voice is that of an adult and not a young child, and for another, I tend toward skepticism when the supernatural pokes into a narrative deeply grounded in realism. But as the book went on I realized it wasn’t really written for readers like me, but rather for those whose culture attunes them to the idea that death is a porous border ... The novel is haunted and haunting, but it is not relentlessly grim ... There is one more layer Pin adds midway through. A first-person narrator enters to put much of the book — the real history and the fictional characters — in perspective, offering a sense of how intergenerational trauma can gradually heal itself ... Had Pin focused on the visceral horrors of the war itself, her first book might have caused people to turn away. But because she lets us live in the aftermath, we are inexorably pulled along, growing emotionally attached to Anh, Minh and Thanh, feeling an empathy and admiration for what these refugees endure, survive and achieve.
It’s a brave blend of styles that, at its best, is powerful. But it comes at the expense of sketchy characterisation: in the end it’s the historical anecdotes that sear on to your mind. Still, it’s a bold debut that breaks new ground in telling the story of the Vietnamese 'boat people' who landed in Britain, a neglected subject in fiction — until now.
Debut novels are often overlooked by avid readers because of the wealth of works by well-known authors. This one should not be. In just 220 pages Cecile Pin’s novel deserves attention for its simple, carefully chosen, often heartbreaking language and its well-constructed scenes that explore themes like family, duty, identity and love. It also offers a much-needed human face that reveals the trauma of immigration and asylum seeking, so often reduced to numbers and stereotypical assumptions ... Based on Pin’s mother’s true story of loss in the 1970s, the book serves as a monument in words and a celebration of small triumphs that constitute a life well-lived.
Pin handles the alternating perspectives skillfully, though Jane’s voice is the most fully lived in and original ... In her meditations on storytelling, Jane recalls Joan Didion, among other literary greats, an invocation that could feel clichéd. Pin earns it, however, as Jane delves into the cultural, psychological, and political stakes of grief and what happens when writing about the past '[rips] open wounds' she never knew she had.
Pin smoothly juggles Anh’s narrative with snippets of speeches and news reports that provide conflicting views of Margaret Thatcher’s policies toward refugees, as well chapters from the perspectives of the ghost of a younger brother, refugees who are sexually assaulted in Thailand, and a narrator—unidentified until the end—who feels great pressure to do justice to their family’s experiences. With concision and clarity, the author shows a deep understanding of how upheaval can splinter families.