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Review: Tales from a Mountain City: A Vietnam War Memoir

Tales from a Mountain City: A Vietnam War Memoir by Quynh Dao
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Source: eARC courtesy of Odyssey Books via NetGalley

My interest in this book is due to my husband’s background. Whilst his ancestry is pure Chinese, his mother is Vietnamese Chinese and he himself was born in a refugee camp in Thailand prior to arriving in Australia when he was merely 3 months old. As far as I know my in-laws do not speak of their past to their children (hubby seems to mostly be ignorant of it, in any case) but due to language barrier, I can’t ask anyway. However, if they’d like the past to be buried, I’d have to respect their wishes. That doesn’t stop me checking out others’ experiences though.

Looking at the chronology, at the beginning of the book, it seems my in-laws must have been in Vietnam at around the same time and escaped maybe a year or two later than the author. My mother in-law is 12 years older than the author but her experience must be similar especially since they are from the same town, Dalat. What a small world this is!

This is a memoir of a childhood in Vietnam in times of war and of communist regime. From a readers’ viewpoint, we could probably see how frightening it was for the adults even from the little hints we were given from the author’s child’s perspective. They still tried to give as much to their children, to equip them as well as they could for adulthood. I first thought that it doesn’t seem that the author was too scared of what’s going on around her but at the end, I think I was wrong. She may not seem to be too scared. She was scared and she was also brave but as a child, you can easily pretend for things to be otherwise and ignore some of the more subtle hints of hardships.

It didn’t mean that she didn’t suffer hardship at all. She went through a lot and especially, noting her ‘bourgeois’ background, she was more often than not oppressed. She was unable to be herself, to truly express herself but instead it must all comply with the strict & unforgiving regime.

I was thrust into the next moment. I had no choice but to let go of my past life. To escape from my country! It seemed such an extraordinary decision that my parents had made for me. I suppose I could have questioned it; I might have hesitated. But I simply accepted it as though it were the most natural course of action in the world. It seemed as if, somewhere deep inside me, there was a powerful invisible force, something that defined me at the core of my being and protected my soul. The force now had hold of me and was pushing me towards where it wanted to take me, telling me what to do without my even being aware of it. ‘You are suffocating,’ it told me. ‘Here you have to gasp for air. You need to breathe freely. You have to go.’

I am caught my surprise at the expressive & fluency of the English language in this book. Sure some direct translation sounds funny but that’s always a given when it comes to such flowery language like Vietnamese or Chinese etc. It definitely helps with the reading though I still found who’s who in the book confusing. Maybe it will benefit from a family tree or a glossary. If you enjoy [b:Mao s Last Dancer], you will more than likely enjoy this book. I was a little disappointed though at where it ends, it’s left too many questions unanswered. I would love to know where these people are today. Maybe there’s a follow up…?

Thank you Odyssey Books and NetGalley for the privilege to read & review galley

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