A moving multigenerational saga about one family's attempts to weather the storms confronting them in an adopted home.
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Why I love it
Author, A Burning
I’ve just turned the last page of this remarkable novel and am sitting with a feeling of awe. How did Eric Nguyen do it?
This is an epic yet intimate saga following, over decades, a Vietnamese family who flee their homeland and resettle in New Orleans. They arrive bearing a deep wound—they were forced to leave behind their husband/father in Saigon. The brothers at the heart of this book, Tuan and Binh, find different paths forward—one joining a gang and the other turning to literature. But it is the story of their mother Huong that made me ache most. Full of hope, she sends cassette tapes to Vietnam hoping they will reach her husband.
I marvel at the richness of this world, from Vietnam to New Orleans to France, each individual from an elderly babysitter to a car salesman so distinct. With gentleness and care, this book takes on huge questions. How long does it take for a place to become home? How do we make our own choices while remaining close to family? How do we live with the secrets and betrayals of our loved ones? This reminded me of Patricia Engel’s Infinite Country, and left me, in the end, with a feeling of having known one family’s enduring love.
When Huong arrives in New Orleans with her two young sons, she is jobless, homeless, and worried about her husband, Cong, who remains in Vietnam. As she and her boys begin to settle into life in America, she continues to send letters and tapes back to Cong, hopeful that they will be reunited and her children will grow up with a father.
But with time, Huong realizes she will never see her husband again. While she copes with this loss, her sons, Tuan and Binh grow up in their absent father's shadow, haunted by a man and a country trapped in their memory and imagination. As they push forward, the three adapt to life in America in different ways: Huong takes up with a Vietnamese car salesman who is also new in town; Tuan tries to connect with his heritage by joining a local Vietnamese gang; and Binh, now going by Ben, embraces his adopted homeland and his burgeoning sexuality. Their search for identity—as individuals and as a family—threatens to tear them apart. But then disaster strikes the city they now call home, and they must find a new way to come together and honor the ties that bind them.
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