Winner of the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize
Winner of the 2017 City of Victoria Butler Book Prize
Finalist for the 2017 Amazon.ca/Books in Canada First Novel Award
How can you stand up to tyranny when your own identity is in turmoil?
Vietnam is a haunted country, and Dr. Nguyen Georges-Minh is a haunted man. In 1908, the French rule Saigon, but uneasily; dissent whispers through the corridors of the city. Each day, more Vietnamese rebels are paraded through the streets towards the gleaming blade of the guillotine, now a permanent fixture in the main square and a gruesome warning to those who would attempt to challenge colonial rule.
It is a warning that Georges-Minh will not heed. A Vietnamese national and Paris-educated physician, he is obsessed by guilt over his material wealth and nurses a secret loathing for the French connections that have made him rich, even as they have torn his beloved country apart.
With a close-knit group of his friends calling themselves the Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains, Georges-Minh plots revenge on the French for the savagery they have shown to the Vietnamese. And it falls to Georges-Minh to create a poison to mix into the Christmas dinner of a garrison of French soldiers. It is an act that will send an unmistakable message to the French: Get out of Vietnam.
But the assassination attempt goes horribly wrong. Forced to flee into the deep jungles of the outer provinces, Georges-Minh must care for his infant son, manage the growing madness of his wife, and elude capture by the hill tribes and the small--but lethal--pockets of French sympathizers.
Journey Prize winner Yasuko Thanh transports us into a vivid, historical Vietnam, one that is filled with chaotic streets, teeming marketplaces, squalid opium dens, and angry ghosts that exist side by side with the living.
Thanh's debut novel, following her 2012 short story collection Floating like the Dead, tells the story of five men who collaborate to overthrow the French colonial forces occupying Vietnam at the turn of the 20th century. The novel starts in Dr. Nguyen Georges-Minh's bedroom, where five men drink, play cards, and plot their revenge against the French occupation. Each of the men has his own problems: Georges-Minh struggles with his parent's bequeathed wealth and privilege (brought about by collaboration with the French) and turns to opium, revolution, and family for solace; a politician's son rejects his father's collusion and the promise of a prominent political career in favor of growing and selling flowers, much to the chagrin of his ambitious wife; a pipa player struggles to fulfill his musical ambitions in a colonized society that no longer has a place for his traditional instrument. Deft touches of magical realism lend this story of love, obligation, and sabotage the mysterious aura referenced in the title.
Customer ReviewsSee All
This book piles on the misery. Unanimously “with I hadn’t read it” for our book club.