Dust Child: A Novel
This complex story took Nguyen Phan Que Mai seven years to research and write, and it’s powerful! She compassionately looks at the pain of the Vietnam War era, both past and present, from the perspective of US soldiers fighting and later returning to South Vietnam, as well as the young Vietnamese women who participated in the sex industry initiated by the American military presence. The result of this situation were the Dust Children, Amerasians, born from the wartime unions between American men and Vietnamese women, who faced cruel discrimination. This story demonstrates the effects of war, beyond deaths and injuries, confirming that at the end of war, whoever wins, the PEOPLE lose!
This is one of the most important books I have read this year. Thoroughly researched, beautifully written,Dust Childbrings to life and humanizes important dimensions of the Vietnam War otherwise untold.
"Powerful and deeply empathetic. A heartbreaking tale of lost ideals, human devotion, and hard-won redemption. Dust Child establishes Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai as one of our finest observers of the devastating consequences of war, and proves, once more, her ability to captivate readers and lure them into Viet Nam’s rich and poignant history."―Viet Thanh Nguyen, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Sympathizer and The Committed
From the bestselling author of The Mountains Sing, a richly poetic and suspenseful saga about two Vietnamese sisters, an American veteran, and an Amerasian man whose lives intersect in surprising ways, set during and after the war in Việt Nam.
In 1969, sisters Trang and Quỳnh, desperate to help their parents pay off debts, leave their rural village to work at a bar in Sài Gòn. Once in the big city, the young girls are thrown headfirst into a world they were not expecting. They learn how to speak English, how to dress seductively, and how to drink and flirt (and more) with American GIs in return for money. As the war moves closer to the city, the once-innocent Trang gets swept up in an irresistible romance with a handsome and kind American helicopter pilot she meets at the bar.
Decades later, an American veteran, Dan, returns to Việt Nam with his wife, Linda, in search of a way to heal from his PTSD; instead, secrets he thought he had buried surface and threaten his marriage. At the same time, Phong—the adult son of a Black American soldier and a Vietnamese woman—embarks on a mission to find both his parents and a way out of Việt Nam. Abandoned in front of an orphanage, Phong grew up being called “the dust of life,” “Black American imperialist,” and “child of the enemy,” and he dreams of a better life in the United States for himself, his wife Bình, and his children.
Past and present converge as these characters come together to confront decisions made during a time of war—decisions that reverberate throughout one another’s lives and ultimately allow them to find common ground across race, generation, culture, and language. Immersive, moving, and lyrical, Dust Child tells an unforgettable story of how those who inherited tragedy can redefine their destinies with hard-won wisdom, compassion, courage, and joy.
Praise for Dust Child: A Novel
Named a Best Book of March/Spring 2023 by the Los Angeles Times, Cosmo, Reader's Digest, GMA.com, Ms. Magazine, Amazon, the Chicago Review of Books, Ms. Magazine, BookPage, and BookBub
“Dust Child is satisfying, lyrical, and deeply empathetic. Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai is a born storyteller.”
—Gabrielle Zevin, New York Times bestselling author of Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow
"Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai will win many more readers with her powerful and deeply empathetic second novel. From the horrors of war and its enduring afterlife for men and women, lovers and children, soldiers and civilians, she weaves a heartbreaking tale of lost ideals, human devotion, and hard-won redemption. Dust Child establishes Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai as one of our finest observers of the devastating consequences of war, and proves, once more, her ability to captivate readers and lure them into Viet Nam’s rich and poignant history."—Viet Thanh Nguyen, Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Sympathizer and The Committed
"Dazzling. Sharply drawn and hauntingly beautiful."—Elif Shafak, author of The Island of Missing Trees
"Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai shows us the capacity we hold to confront our pasts, for the purpose of life is not to remain intact, but to break open, to let loss be a guide, to face the echoes of longing. In Dust Child, rupture leads to emotional richness and pain creates the pathways worth walking. I truly cannot wait for the rest of the world to celebrate this book."—Chanel Miller, New York Times bestselling author of Know My Name
"Once again, Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai has written a beautiful novel that shines a light on the history of Vietnam. With a poet's grace, she writes of the legacy of war across time and place and the stories that bind us. Dust Child is simply stunning."—Eric Nguyen, author of Things We Lost To The Water
"Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai is one of the most unique storytellers of our time. She creates plots which are Dickensian in their breadth and mastery, while bravely probing the complex emotional challenges of living in a modern world full of disruption and displacement. In Dust Child, Quế Mai displays the same tenderness and compassion for her characters, hard-earned understanding of human trauma, and poetically evocative language that made her debut novel The Mountains Sing an international bestseller beloved around the world."
—Natalie Jenner, internationally bestselling author of The Jane Austen Society
"With a poet's gift for language and a psychologist's eye for the tender, error-prone hearts of mankind, Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai weaves a web of impossible choices, inescapable circumstance, and searing loss, set to the backdrop of a war that changed everything . . . A heartbreaking, beautifully told, utterly unique story of love, loss, and longing that speaks to the very heart of the human experience."—Kristin Harmel, New York Times bestselling author of The Forest of Vanishing Stars
"Scenes of past and present Việt Nam come alive in these pages, drawing you into the lives of a handful of characters who become like your family, and in whose stories lies the heartbreaking story of Việt Nam's complicated relationship with America. With her generous heart and unmatched ability to write across languages and cultures, Quế Mai is the perfect guide for the wounded who search for home and healing."—Thi Bui, award-winning author of The Best We Could Do
"Well-researched, realistic, and compassionately written, Dust Child brings to life the heartbreaking experiences of young American men and young Vietnamese women who were pulled into the vortex of the Việt Nam War and the tragedy inherited by their Amerasian children. Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai's powerful novel enables us to travel deep into Việt Nam's past and present days so that we can bear witness to the courage of her Amerasian, Vietnamese, and American characters. This eye-opening and fascinating novel is a must-read!"—Le Ly Hayslip, bestselling author of When Heaven and Earth Changed Places and The Child of War, Woman of Peace
“The sons and daughters of American soldiers and their Vietnamese girlfriends who exhibited African American and European features were shunned by Vietnam’s monoethnic society during and after the war. Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai writes of some of these "dust children" with complexity and heart. This is a powerful and moving story, brilliantly told." —Robert Mason, New York Times bestselling author of Chickenhawk
“Intricate and ingenious… vividly drawn.”—Washington Post
“Dust Child takes on the difficult subject of Amerasians left behind once the American military fled its own misadventures in Southeast Asia. Look for a reception akin to Min Jin Lee’s bestselling Pachinko.”—Los Angeles Times
“This moving novel deals with the legacies of shame and trauma—both carried and passed on—by young women who fought in no war, but were battle-scarred just the same.”—Amazon Book Review
“From the author of the bestselling book The Mountains Sing comes this epic story of those who lived through the Việt Nam conflict or were otherwise deeply affected by it decades later.”—Ms. Magazine
“Spanning the arc of the Vietnam War and its lingering traumas, Dust Child brings together an unforgettable cast of characters… [and] deftly explores the ways we both inherit trauma and redefine our own paths forward.”—Chicago Review of Books
“[A] saga of a book that truly captures the desperation, grief, and pain of the war that continues to live on, decades after American military involvement. A great read for those unfamiliar with the conflict in Vietnam.”—Mochi Mag
“An insightful, engrossing novel.”—California Review of Books
“A powerful tale that examines the complex way different lives became intertwined.”—The Manual
“In her riveting successor to The Mountains Sing, Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai has masterfully captured the toll of war and its aftermath on a Black Amerasian, an outcast in the country of his birth, on an American vet, haunted and seeking redemption, and on two Vietnamese sisters, forced by economic hardship into circumstances they could not have foreseen. Nguyễn creates, in her luminous prose, a gripping and nuanced narrative of men and women caught in the web of war and its aftermath.” —Steven DeBonis, author of Children of the Enemy: Oral Histories of Vietnamese Amerasians and Their Mothers
"With great compassion, with a firm conviction in the redeeming power of love and forgiveness, and with the consummate skill of a great story-teller, Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai weaves us into the lives, past and present, of those called “the dust of life”—the ostracized, mixed-race children of American soldiers; their mothers, compelled by war into prostitution, and their fathers, the G.I.’s who abandoned them and yet remained haunted by them."
—Professor Wayne Karlin, author of Wandering Souls: Journeys with the Deadand the Living in Viet Nam
“Achingly honest and ultimately hopeful; essential reading for U.S. audiences.”—Library Journal (starred review)
“Rewarding… with a cinematic clarity.”—Publishers Weekly
“Quế Mai adeptly balances these contemporary narratives with Phong’s early experiences and the wartime story of sisters Trang and Quynh… There are no clear heroes or villains here as characters' actions and choices are shaped by their circumstances and the war’s legacy.”—Booklist
“Through compelling multilayered fiction, Nguyễn intimately humanizes war's victims, regardless of nationalities… Nguyễn deftly wields her own polyglot talents to reclaim lives too long overlooked.”—Shelf Awareness
“Poignantly written, Dust Child is a must-read.”—Diasporic Vietnamese Artists Network (DVAN)
“Through intersecting stories of Vietnamese and American characters, Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’s luminous Dust Child portrays the heart-wrenching collateral damage that resulted from a fleeting love during the Vietnam War.”—BookPage
“A poignant and suspenseful saga marked by family secrets and generational trauma.”—BookBub
"Inherited trauma, intense secrets, and inside looks characterize this lyrical novel by a bold talent."—GMA.com
“A worthy and affecting story that is long overdue.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“A moving saga about family secrets, trauma, discrimination, hope and, ultimately forgiveness.”—San Diego Union Tribune
“An engrossing story of Amerasians born to the Vietnamese women and American GIs during the time of the Vietnam War. Told from three points of view with emotion and skill, these intersecting stories will stay with you.”—BookTrib
“In this sweeping, decades-spanning saga, Phong, a half-Black, half-Vietnamese man, searches for the parents who abandoned him while Dan, a war veteran, returns to Vietnam to contend with secrets from his past.”—New York Times Book Review
“Dust Child offers fresh, compassionate lens on Vietnam… [and] encourages compassion, reconciliation and forgiveness… In addition to gracefully conveying a complex sense of history and the past, Dust Child also conveys a beautiful sense of Vietnamese culture through poetry, music, customs, and food.”—KPBS (San Diego NPR ) Midday Edition
“Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai works wonders taking readers deep inside this undercovered part of the war's history... Quế Mai has given these characters — and the real people they represent — a bold voice. It's well worth listening to.”—Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“An exquisite novel... It is one of the many pleasures of Dust Child that despite its portrayal of suffering and difficulty, the novel is also infused with joy. Whether writing of Phong’s courtship of the singer Bình, and their eventual marriage, or Kim’s love of poetry, or vibrant street scenes from the cities, Nguyễn beautifully summons the daily lives of her characters… In telling their stories over a lifetime, she gives each of the characters opportunities to inhabit their full humanity, and chances to learn and change.”—Boston Globe
“Dust Child is at once empathetic, devastating and upbeat, burnished with Quế Mai's stunning signature prose.”—WGBH / Under the Radar
“If you loved Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing, you’re going to want to carve out uninterrupted reading time for this historical fiction title.”—Reader's Digest
“In this emotionally stirring listen, Ngo captures the story's reflective mood and elevates the characters' humanity.”—AudioFile Magazine
“A moving, decades-long family saga.”—Boise State Public Radio / Reader's Corner
“Dust Child is a result of years of Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’s research, and a fervent attempt to acknowledge the lives and experiences of these children, all coupled with a compassion that’s unique to her alone.”—BookRiot
“Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’s amazing gift is her ability to portray the legacy of war from a very human standpoint – she compels readers to understand the long-lasting effects of conflict on both the land and the thousands upon thousands of people impacted by war. This is a book I won’t soon forget.”—The Buzz Magazine
“With this heartrending, decades-spanning, page-turning saga, Que Mai has delivered a classic piece of literature whose lifespan will spread a thousand-fold.”—Isele Magazine
“A poetic saga that deftly examines oft-marginalized elements of war, race, trauma and healing.”—Saigoneer
“[M]asterful… this newest addition into the Vietnamese literary cannon should not be missed.”—US Vietnam Review
“This sweeping epic of the many lives impacted is a historical whirlwind.”—She Reads, “She Reads Best Books of 2023: Historical Fiction”