In this multigenerational tale set against the backdrop of the Việt Nam War, Trần Diệu Lan, who was born in 1920, was forced to flee her family farm with her six children during the Land Reform as the Communist government rose in the North. Years later in Hà Nội, her young granddaughter, Hương, comes of age as her parents and uncles head off down the Hồ Chí Minh Trail to fight in a conflict that tore not just her beloved country, but her family apart.
... 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.