Review: The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai

Human lives were short and fragile. Time and illnesses consumed us, like flames burning away these pieces of wood. But it didn’t matter how long or short we lived. It mattered more how much light we were able to shed on those we loved and how many people we touched with our compassion.

The Mountains Sing

Summary and Thoughts

With the epic sweep of Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko or Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing and the lyrical beauty of Vaddey Ratner’s In the Shadow of the Banyan, The Mountains Sing tells an enveloping, multigenerational tale of the Tran family, set against the backdrop of the Viet Nam War. Tran Dieu Lan, who was born in 1920, was forced to flee her family farm with her six children during the Land Reform as the Communist government rose in the North. Years later in Hà Noi, her young granddaughter, Hương, comes of age as her parents and uncles head off down the Ho Chí Minh Trail to fight in a conflict that will tear not just her beloved country but her family apart.

Vivid, gripping, and steeped in the language and traditions of Viet Nam, The Mountains Sing brings to life the human costs of this conflict from the point of view of the Vietnamese people themselves, while showing us the true power of kindness and hope. This is celebrated Vietnamese poet Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai ’s first novel in English.


Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai spent seven years translating her tale to English, making sure her complex story of anguish, family, love, and hope was accurately conveyed to her English speaking audience, and she has succeeded with flying colors. What an incredible, multi-generational story. The Mountain Sings boasts a large cast of distinct characters, but Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai skillfully brings each one to life, revealing each of their inner turmoils and beliefs through the lens of trauma. By the end of the story I was vividly aware of the great emotional complexity the pain of the Vietnam War forced upon this family, and the ways this pain struck them apart and wove them together again. If you are new to multi-generational stories or the history of Vietnam, this is an excellent book to pick up. For while the story can be grim in its realistic portrayal of violence and grief, it is ultimately hopeful, a representation of the resilient characters therein.

Photo Courtesy of Goodreads

Notable Reviews

For Those Who Enjoyed

Star Rating


One thought on “Review: The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: