Although it is the most recently published of this group, The Mountains Sing has already been widely read, reviewed, and translated and is justifiably on its way to becoming a mainstay in the literature of the Vietnam War.
The novel serves as a welcome counterpoint to Graham Greene’s Phuong and much other fiction about the war and Vietnam; what the writer wants to—and powerfully succeeds in doing—is to present non-Vietnamese readers not only with female central characters who break the Madame Butterfly/Miss Saigon/Quiet American stereotypes, but whose voices take us into the heart of the country itself, the painful history of the nation as personalized through the story of the Tran family as they survive, overcome, and finally thrive.
The novel moves from the Second World War to the present and is told in alternating chapters: Huong, a teenager whose mother and father have both gone to fight the war with America, describes her life in Hanoi in wartime, living under terrifying bombardments and deprivations, witnessing her mother and uncle returning from the battlefield traumatized and emotionally numbed, while also seeing how the war which split Vietnam against itself fractures her own family. At the same time, she listens to her Grandmother Dieu Lan tell the story of her life up to that time, through the Japanese occupation, the “Great Hunger” where millions of Vietnamese starved to death, the Land Reform period when forced collectivization in the North was the source of injustice and murder.
The story of both these women, and their family, could be—and so represents—the story of millions of Vietnamese, but by concentrating on one family whom we get to know and care about, luminous descriptive language, and the creation of an engrossing plot, it becomes a story through which readers can find a Vietnam missing in so much of American—and in the case of Graham Greene—English fiction about the war.