“For my grandmother who perished in the Great Hunger, for my grandfather, who died because of the Land Reform; and for my uncle, whose youth the Viet Nam War consumed […]”

I only had to read the dedication to know I was in for an emotional rollercoaster of a family saga, and I wasn’t wrong.

The Mountains Sing follows four generations of the Trần family, alternating between the perspectives of Trần Diệu Lan and her granddaughter, Hường.

After our initial introduction to grandmother and granddaughter, as they shelter from American bombs in 1972 Hà Nội, we are taken back in time to Trần Diệu Lan’s childhood: as the child of landowners, her life is good until it isn’t.

Mirroring the dedication, Trần Diệu Lan’s trajectory allows us to directly witness the impact of The Great Hunger of 1945- a famine which resulted in the loss of two million Vietnamese lives. Later on, Trần Diệu Lan is forced to flee her home with her six children during the Land Reform, her family torn apart in a series of events that will shape the family’s future and reverberate through the generations. We then come full circle as we witness the ways the Việt Nam War directly impacts not only Trần Diệu Lan and Hường, but also Hường’s parents and so many others of their generation.

In this novel, Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai expresses her love for her country, its culture, its language and its history. Through the Trần family she shines a light on the generations of so many ordinary families whose lives will have been similarly impacted by decades of war, famine and political upheaval. She also centres the experiences and contributions of Vietnamese women during this period, and the ways they served war efforts directly, often at great personal cost.

This story is a moving tribute to the author’s own family, but also to the people of Việt Nam and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.