BY NGUYEN PHAN QUE MAI This sweeping novel is a rich tapestry of stories, deftly woven together into a whole by extraordinarily talented author Nguyen Phan Que Mai. In 1969, sisters Trang and Quýnh have chosen to leave the rural village to find work in Sài Gòn and support their parents. Warily, they become bar girls, flirting and sleeping with US soldiers for tips, slowly eroding their strongly held sense of morality. In 2016, veteran helicopter pilot Dan is visiting Vietnam with his wife and childhood sweetheart Linda, on a trip to experience the country he was deployed to as a young soldier and hopefully ease the PTSD he’s been experiencing ever since. Secretly, he’s planning to track down Kim, a bar girl he fell in love with while stationed in the country – and perhaps Kim’s child, whom he abandoned along with her upon learning of the pregnancy. Alongside Dan’s modern-day tale, we meet Phong, son of a Vietnamese woman and a Black American soldier: abandoned by both his parents, looked down on by Vietnamese society and desperately trying to navigate an unsympathetic system in hope of a new chance for him and his family. The book’s title is an allusion to bui đòi – meaning ‘life of dust’ – referring to mixed-race children born during and after the Vietnam War. As the narratives unfold, we get a glimpse of the true cost of war as it ripples down generations. A stunning, unmissable read.
MULTI MEDIA A brilliantly written debut novel by the founder of Gal-dem magazine
BY LIV LITTLE Blissfully lyrical, nag-champa-scented novel Rosewater follows the free-spirited Elsie. Surviving and not thriving in London’s Peckham, she works behind the bar in a gay club by night and determinedly writes poetry by day. She’s estranged from her family and uncomfortably discontent with her current lot: she’s also sleeping with her gorgeous co-worker Bea, torn as to whether this is a good choice or not, but finding herself unable to resist her colleague at the end of another hard shift at the bar. The book opens as bailiffs arrive at Elsie’s flat. Left with nowhere to go, she reconnects with her old friend Juliet and moves into her flat’s proffered spare room. She wrestles with hard realities, continues to believe in herself and her art despite repeated rejections, and tries to ignore the flickers of their reignited friendship that are slowly transforming into full-blown, unrequited love – but is it really a one-way street? A pacy, emotional, deeply evocative novel about friendship, feeling lost and allowing yourself to be found where you least expect it.
CAMBSEDITION.CO.UK MAY 2023 27
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