In this stunning novel based loosely on the life of the author's grandfather, an embroiderer in the court of the last king of Vietnam in the early 1900s, Kien Nguyen reimagines his grandfather's amazing story to weave a tapestry of his own. Dan Nguyen is seven years old when he marries a woman twenty years his senior. More mother than wife, Ven takes care of Dan until the day he leaves his childhood forever - when he witnesses his father's brutal beheading at the hands of the power-hungry mayor. In order to protect Dan until he is old enough to defend his father's honour, Ven hides him as a servant in the house of the enemy, where he falls in love with the one person he can never have - the mayor's beautiful granddaughter, Tai May. Dan's journey from child to slave to embroiderer in the Royal Court, where he has the chance to win Tai May's heart, is a story of spellbinding drama, intrigue, and an unforgettable love affair.
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(198mm x 126mm x mm)
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Country of Publication:
UK Kirkus Review »
Loosely based on the life of the author's grandfather, this novel is set in Vietnam in the early 20th century. This was a turbulent time in the country's history, with the modernising influence of the colonial French coming into conflict with the more traditional Vietnamese way of life. The novel's central character, Dan Nguyen, is born in the small, rural Cam Le Village as the son of the third wife of a successful businessman. He is married at the age of seven to Ven, who is 20 years his senior, and because of the age difference between them she becomes more of a mother figure than a wife. After Dan's father and his first two wives are arrested and executed for piracy and treason by the sinister Magistrate Toan, Dan's mother abandons him and runs off with the gardener, leaving Ven to protect Dan. Thinking that it will be the last place anyone would think to look for him, Ven sells him as a slave to the Magistrate's house, and there he meets and falls in love with Lady Tai May, the magistrate's granddaughter. When his identity and his love for Tai May are discovered Dan is forced to flee Cam Le Village, and eventually becomes an embroiderer in the royal court. This is a beautifully written meditation on love (both romantic and maternal) and the corrosive power of revenge. Nguyen effortlessly evokes a world that is at once both foreign and strangely familiar: this novel is a timely reminder that no matter how different our cultures and lives are, there are more similarities than differences between us. Nguyen's greatest successes in this novel are the two grotesque figures of Magistrate Toan and the Time-teller: these two characters burst off the pages of the novel. Magistrate Toan drips with malevolence throughout the entire book, and his shadowy, sinister presence haunts even its lightest moments. The Time-teller is a physically and mentally scarred bogeyman figure, who grows in stature during the course of the novel, until he is revealed as a person capable of great love. It is a shame that in comparison Dan and Tai May appear rather lifeless and dull, but fortunately this does not spoil what is otherwise a thoroughly enjoyable book. (Kirkus UK)
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Author Biography - Kien Nguyen
Kien Nguyen was born in Nhatrang, South Vietnam in 1967. He left Vietnam in 1985 through the United Nations 'Orderly Departure Program'. After spending time at a refugee camp in the Phillippines, Nguyen arrived in the United States. He has written a memoir about his childhood in Vietnam called THE UNWANTED and is currently at work on a second novel.