After the last American troops leave Vietnam, siblings Anh, Minh, and Thanh journey to Hong Kong with the promise that their parents and younger siblings will soon follow. But when tragedy strikes, the three children are left orphaned, and sixteen-year-old Anh becomes the caretaker for her two younger brothers overnight.
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.