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Bronze Drum by Phong Nguyen
Historical fiction

Bronze Drum

by Phong Nguyen

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Quick take

This epic tale of sisterhood and reclaiming homelands will have your heart pounding in your chest like drums of war.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_400

    400+ pages

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Feminist

    Feminist

  • Illustrated icon, Icons_Underdog

    Underdog

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_War

    War

Synopsis

Gather around, children of Chu Diên, and be brave. For even to listen to the story of the Trưng Sisters is, in these troubled times, a dangerous act.

In 40 CE, in the Au Lac region of ancient Vietnam, two daughters of a Vietnamese Lord fill their days training, studying, and trying to stay true to Vietnamese traditions. While Trưng Trắc is disciplined and wise, always excelling in her duty, Trưng Nhị is fierce and free spirited, more concerned with spending time in the gardens and with lovers.

But these sister’s lives—and the lives of their people—are shadowed by the oppressive rule of the Hán Chinese. They are forced to adopt Confucian teachings, secure marriages, and pay increasing taxes. As the peoples’ frustration boils over, the country comes ever closer to the edge of war.

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Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of Bronze Drum.
Bronze Drum

PROLOGUE

Gather around, children of Chu Diên, and be brave. For even to listen to the story of the Trưng Sisters is, in these troubled times, a dangerous act. The Hán gods are jealous of Việt heroes, and while the Hán have ruled Lạc Việt for a hundred years, our legends threaten to reduce the empire to ashes.

Behold the lacquered puppets dancing on a clear pool of water under the moonlight, and think back farther than you ever have before, to your ancestor-memory, and witness:

Here are the Trưng Sisters! Trưng Nhị is wild and venturesome, while Trưng Trắc is disciplined and proud. They ride into war on the backs of elephants, wearing golden armor brandishing swords that flash in the sun, leading an army of women. And in the distance, the thrashing of the bronze drum, announcing the battle at hand.

Look! The wicked Hán governor enters the stage. He takes Việt honor and blood as if they were shimmering coins in his hands. He will settle for nothing but total subjugation

Soon the armies will clash on the field. The Việt women love freedom and will not bow. The Hán men fight to conquer what was never theirs to rule: the soul of this country, its unobtainable heart.

Now watch as I, Kha the guardsman, ride between the two, and carry the heroic secret of how to vanquish the Hán to the Trưng Sisters, She-Kings of the Việts. I will not presume to claim responsibility for their victory—suffice it to say the outcome would have been uncertain without my help.

Let us clear the stage before we go too far. Let us focus instead on this sublime moment: the cusp of the Trưng Sisters’ triumph. There is nothing more beautiful than the intake and outflow of breath from the bodies of free men and women.

Here are the Trưng Sisters! Trưng Nhị is wild and venturesome, while Trưng Trắc is disciplined and proud. They ride into war on the backs of elephants, wearing golden armor brandishing swords that flash in the sun, leading an army of women. And in the distance, the thrashing of the bronze drum, announcing the battle at hand.

Look! The wicked Hán governor enters the stage. He takes Việt honor and blood as if they were shimmering coins in his hands. He will settle for nothing but total subjugation

Soon the armies will clash on the field. The Việt women love freedom and will not bow. The Hán men fight to conquer what was never theirs to rule: the soul of this country, its unobtainable heart.

Now watch as I, Kha the guardsman, ride between the two, and carry the heroic secret of how to vanquish the Hán to the Trưng Sisters, She-Kings of the Việts. I will not presume to claim responsibility for their victory—suffice it to say the outcome would have been uncertain without my help.

Let us clear the stage before we go too far. Let us focus instead on this sublime moment: the cusp of the Trưng Sisters’ triumph. There is nothing more beautiful than the intake and outflow of breath from the bodies of free men and women.

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Why I love it

I’m always in awe of writers who can take us back in time with nothing but words on a page.

Phong Nguyen is one of those writers. How many times while reading Bronze Drum did I look up to be surprised that I wasn’t watching a palace under siege? Or a battle of bows and arrows? Many times.

But what makes Bronze Drum a particularly interesting read is its subject matter, one that is not known to many. Bronze Drum takes place in ancient Vietnam when the country was under the domain of China. Ruled by colonial powers, the people of Vietnam were heavily taxed. Meanwhile, their sons were sent abroad to wars that only benefited the emperor.

But two women dared to rebel: the legendary Trưng Sisters. Born into an aristocratic family and witnesses to the violence of the oppressive regime firsthand, the Trưng Sisters armed themselves, built a militia of women, and fought for their nation’s freedom. All this while riding elephants! It’s a seemingly impossible story, but history tells us differently and Bronze Drum takes us there.

Along the way, we come to understand the inner lives of these historical figures as they yearn and love and grieve and pick themselves back up. This is a different type of war novel, one that has a little bit of something for everyone. Whatever type of reader you are, you’re in for a treat!

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Member ratings (2,645)

  • Elizabeth V.

    San juan, TX

    A true story about finding yourself & then finding the people you love, and then defending them to the very end. Great historical fiction storytelling. “I promise you will never be caged again.” ????

  • Renee S.

    Woodside, NY

    I loved this book! The story of the Trung sisters felt larger than life. Reading this fictional account of their upbringing and rebellion against the Han was so gripping, I couldn’t put this book down

  • Tatiana P.

    White Plains, NY

    the sample read doesn’t serve this book well. I was skeptical of the narrative style because of it, but it was no where close to it. Great story, great narrative. Only the ending seemed a bit abrupt

  • Liza R.

    Byram Township, NJ

    An amazing story of two daughters who rise up against their invading oppressors. A lovely tale of sisterhood, and the strength of the female spirit. A historical tail that every woman should read

  • Maggie S.

    Topeka, KS

    Beautiful book with strong female characters. The sisters’ triumphs & heartbreaks were very moving. I also loved getting to learn about a culture and period in history that I didn’t know about.

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