A beautifully written story that will stay with the reader for a long while.
Several storylines converge in this book over the course of the tale. 1969 Vietnam and 2016 Vietnam are the main settings of the novel.
Two sisters leave their rice farm in the Mekong Delta for Saigon in order to earn money to help their parents out of debt. They become bar girls. Asking American soldiers to buy them drinks in exchange for a percentage of the money they spend. And there are more things at stake than merely drinking with American soldiers.
An American helicopter pilot stationed in Vietnam during the war who is now in his sixties returns to Saigon with his wife in order to help with his PTSD. Some of his friends have made the return trip and it has helped them. He’s keeping a big secret from his wife though and on the first day in the country, his secrets threaten to spill out and endanger his marriage.
A young black Amerasian man named Phong has lived a hard life as what the Vietnamese call a dust child. Seen as the child of the hated Americans, these children are treated abysmally and discriminated against in both education and employment opportunities. He’s desperate to get his family to America. He was abandoned at an orphanage as an infant and eventually lived on the streets of Saigon, raising himself from age twelve. An adult now with a wife and two children, he wants a better life for them.
The author of this book has a wonderful way with words. Her prose is smooth and easy to read. Many of the passages are very moving. The way she ties the various storylines together is well done. I can’t praise this book enough.
The hard issues that still haunt Vietnam as well as veterans from that era are faced with dignity and caring. The Vietnamese women who were used by the GIs for sex and comfort are depicted as three-dimensional and the product of the horrible wartime they lived in. The reader cared about them and their fates as well as the trauma they went through.
The Amerasian character was also someone who the reader could root for. He overcame so much in his life, the reader wanted him to succeed. From the poor child he was to the family man who wanted respect and happiness for his family, he was really a character that spoke to this reader’s heart. None of the circumstances of his birth were his fault, but his whole life was spent paying the price.
As to the American helicopter pilot, he was depicted as worthy of respect in some ways, but in some ways, not. Portrayed realistically in the ways of how the war affected young men, he was someone the reader could feel for in some respects and not in others. The things these soldiers saw and did during their time in the jungle changed them and not for the better.
It was clear the author spent massive amounts of time interviewing people who actually lived these kinds of lives and she did an excellent job making those interviews into a novel that one can enjoy the story, but also learn some things about human nature and resiliency. An important read, in my opinion.
I don’t think I can do justice to this book in this review but I absolutely loved this book. I think it’s one everyone should read. For the lessons in love and forgiveness that are at the heart of this book are something we can all strive for in our lives.