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Hamish Hamilton/ Penguin (2016-04-05)
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2nd Pass Pages
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English
Themas
Historical adventure fiction
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MYSTERIOUS FRAGRANCE OF THE YELLOW MOUNTAINS

by Thanh, Yasuko

This is the novel prize-winning short-story writer Yasuko Thanh was born to write. Inspired by the story of her father’s family in Vietnam, it explores the little-known, dramatic history of the French in Indochina, and the nationalist rebellions against them.

A doctor brews a potion from the dartura flower with the aim of poisoning soldiers in the French garrison in Saigon. Based on the real-life Hanoi Poisoning Plot of 1908, this novel tells a story that crosses the landscape of Vietnam when the doctor is forced to flee. The characters include a fish-girl pulled from the Mekong River -- in a superstition-rich land, this is an omen; a poet with one green eye; a rich revolutionary who detests his inheritance money, and a pregnant wife who keeps a menagerie of pigeons, cats, and a boa constrictor.

The stories in this novel are Yasuko Thanh’s family’s stories. For political reasons, her grandfather was forced into hiding for two years during the Japanese occupation of Vietnam, after which time her grandmother and father set out to search for him. Falling somewhere between Kiran Desai’s Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard, Edith Wharton’s Ethan Fromme, and The End of the Alphabet by C.S. Richardson, the novel promises a poetic, fantastic, darkly comic look at the cost of insurrection as well as the complications of falling in love at a time when historical conditions complicate it.

Little has been written about this fascinating time period, in either fiction or nonfiction. It’s easy to paint a picture of the evils of colonial domination; but, as with intimate relationships between people in love, the realistic portrayal of an uneven power dynamic is often more convoluted than a simple dichotomy between good and evil. The aggressor and victim intertwine, depending upon each other for their identities, routines, and even small joys.

Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains is a novel for everyone who has asked: Is there anything you must believe in in order to be who you are? And at what cost? It will speak to those who have wanted to re-invent themselves, or who have struggled to live up to their own standards.

YASUKO THANH’s story collection Floating Like the Dead was published by McClelland & Stewart in 2012 and was shortlisted for the Danuta Gleed Award and the BC Book Prize for Fiction. One story in it won an Arthur Ellis Award for Best Crime Short Story. The title story was the Journey Prize winner for the best story published in Canada in 2009. Quill and Quire named Floating Like the Dead a best book of the year. CBC hailed Yasuko Thanh one of 10 writers to watch in 2013.

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Kommentare

Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains will carry you away with the startling clarity of it language — you will almost forget you are reading at all. Until, that is, you are drawn up short by the uncanny sense that this book is not really about the past at all... that it is instead directly addressing you, the reader.

Quote: Johanna Skibsrud, author

A compelling and devastating debut.

Review: The Globe and Mail

The universal legacies of colonialism: guilt, revenge, violence, ghosts. Yasuko Thanh captures Viet Nam's historical intrigues in story-telling that is compelling, vivid, tragic, passionate.

Quote: Kim Echlin, author of The Disappeared

Deft touches of magical realism lend this story of love, obligation, and sabotage the mysterious aura referenced in the title.

Review: Publishers Weekly, starred review

Sweeping yet intimate, Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains is a novel in which not a single, haunting detail is trivial, and a devastating edginess straddles what is intoxicating, astonishing, and at once ancient and contemporary. Yasuko Thanh has rendered a richly imagined narrative of five men plotting, drinking, dreaming of poison against the fascinating backdrop of colonialism and revolution, where ghosts, superstition, love, and insanity seethe. This is a book to be savoured, thought about, and discussed — a book to be remembered.

Quote: Alexandra Curry, author

Romania: Editura RAO

Quote: Bukowski

The ordinary mingles with the monumental.. A novel that feels simultaneously historical and firmly contemporary.

Review: Maisonneuve Magazine

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