From award-winning author Paul Yoon comes a “spellbinding” (The Washington Post) novel about three kids orphaned in 1960s Laos—and how their destinies are entwined across decades, anointed by Hernan Diaz as “one of those rare novels that stays with us to become a standard with which we measure other books.”
Alisak, Prany, and Noi—three orphans united by devastating loss—must do what is necessary to survive the perilous landscape of 1960s Laos. When they take shelter in a bombed out field hospital, they meet Vang, a doctor dedicated to helping the wounded at all costs. Soon the teens are serving as motorcycle couriers, delicately navigating their bikes across the fields filled with unexploded bombs, beneath the indiscriminate barrage from the sky.
In a world where the landscape and the roads have turned into an ocean of bombs, we follow their grueling days of rescuing civilians and searching for medical supplies, until Vang secures their evacuation on the last helicopters leaving the country. It’s a move with irrevocable consequences—and sets them on disparate and treacherous paths across the world.
Spanning decades, this “richly layered” (The New York Times Book Review, Editors’ Choice) book weaves together storylines laced with beauty and cruelty. Paul Yoon’s “greatest skill lies in crafting subtle moments that underline the strange and specific sadness inherent to trauma” (Time) and this book is a breathtaking historical feat and a fierce study of the powers of hope, perseverance, and grace.
Yoon (The Mountain) asks whether anyone can truly survive the ruins of war in this sparely written gem. In 1969, inhabitants of war-ravaged Laos struggle with political conflicts and a landscape in which civilians regularly cope with the ugly consequences of accidentally setting off unexploded ordnance. Three homeless teenagers Alisak and brother and sister Prany and Noi, all friends since childhood are recruited to work for a makeshift hospital set up in an abandoned mansion. The three navigate dangerous terrain on motorbikes to deliver supplies, and bond with Vang, the French doctor in charge. When the day comes to evacuate, the four are separated. Yoon masterfully weaves their divergent story lines, unveiling the different trajectories of their lives. While Alisak manages a bicycle and moped shop in the Spanish countryside, Vang and Prany are imprisoned and tortured for seven years and later plot revenge on their tormentors. Yoon's eloquent, sensitive character study of Alisak, who deeply misses his friends well into his 60s, illustrates how the horrors of the past can linger, no matter how far one travels from the source. This is a finely wrought tale about courage and endurance.