Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai: Dust Child

Last year, when Ms. Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai announced her forthcoming novel, Dust Child, I immediately pre-ordered it. Having read and loved her debut novel, The Mountains Sing, I expected her new book, in which she spent seven years writing, to be excellent.

Dust Child arrived in my mailbox last Tuesday and I read it every chance I had. The book lived up to my expectations. Ms. Nguyễn is a gifted writer with an ear for language and a heart for humanity. In her stories, she puts the suffering of her characters over the conflicts from all sides. She sheds light on the dust of lives of Amerasians, dark-skinned children in particular, who had to face hatred and discrimination. Although her characters are fictional, I heard similar heartbreaking stories growing up in Việt Nam.

In addition to the devastating consequences, Ms. Nguyễn weaves together the sweet, erotic romance and the cultural references. As what she had done in The Mountains Sings, Ms. Nguyễn incorporated Vietnamese proverbs with her excellent translations in Dust Child. I appreciate both her clear writing style as well as her level-headed approach to the war—all sides are responsible for the human loss and suffering. It’s an engaging, eye-opening, heart-rending read.