The Mountains Sing
by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai
Championed by Emily Powter-Robinson at Em’s Shelf Love
Oneworld Publications (Aug 20)
I started my blog in May 2020 with the idea of having a lockdown hobby to keep myself occupied. I’d been toying with the idea of starting a blog and bookstagram for several months, and lockdown gave me the push I needed. I’m an English Literature graduate, now working in the publishing industry, and I really just wanted my blog to act as a space to write down all of my thoughts about the books I read. I fell out of the habit of reading after finishing my degree, but the blogging community has reignited my love for books and I’ve made so many friends. What started out as a lockdown pastime has quickly become one of the biggest joys in my life!
With a duo of loveable characters at the heart of this story, Nguyẽ̂n Phan Qué̂ Mai will entrance you with her simple yet poetic storytelling – for lovers of strong female narratives and coming-of-age stories, this book is a gift!”
The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai
I loved The Mountains Sing so much that it might be one of my favourite books ever.
Set in Vietnam, The Mountains Sing is a multi-generational story of the Tran family and their battle for survival. Against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, we meet Hương and her grandmother, Trần Diệu Lan, who was forced to flee her family farm with her six children during the Land Reform as the Communist government rose to power in the North of the country. As the story develops, we are gradually told more of Trần Diệu Lan’s life story as she passes it down to her granddaughter, reflecting on how their family was torn apart by the land reform, French colonisation, the Japanese invasion and Communism.
From the first sentence, I was transported to Vietnam in all its glory; the picturesque countryside, the buzzing streets of its cities, the aromas of the food, the beauty of the language. Every sentence pulled me further inside the pages of this story to the point that I never wanted to leave Vietnam. What I couldn’t bear to leave behind even more, however, was Hương and her grandmother, Trần Diệu Lan. I became so attached to these characters that I had to remind myself that they weren’t real, but the thing is, they really could have been. It is in their relationship and all that their family go through that I think you can really tell how much The Mountains Sing was inspired by real-life events; Nguyẽ̂n Phan Qué̂ Mai herself grew up witnessing the devastation of the Vietnam War and only someone who had experienced some of the very same emotions as their characters could write with such conviction and compassion.
Of course, history books will tell us the facts, the statistics of the number of people injured or killed, but what they don’t show us is the personal stories of the people whose lives were ripped apart right at the very centre of this violence. For such a devastating book, Nguyẽ̂n Phan Qué̂ Mai puts her whole heart into this narrative, and what shines through most amongst the shards of a broken nation, is a whole lot of hope, courage, and love.
I don’t think I’ll ever stop praising this book. If it’s sat on your TBR pile, pick it up, and if you don’t own a copy, this is me encouraging you to go and buy one. You won’t regret it.