Barry reveals a Vietnamese people who are easy to imagine as characters in a post-apocalyptic novel a la The Road—except the sting is that these are images of people from our past, those who survived war and being carted about their country. Spanning 30 years, the novel features an artful narrator who poetically reveals the landscape while unwinding the life of Rabbit: daughter, friend, lover, ghost-whisperer, and more to those around her. It’s easy to revel in Barry’s language and story—lingering on description like it was dessert, attending scenes that coalesce as footage of a life of endless searching for what calls.— Todd Wellman
Radiant, lyrical, and deeply moving, this is the unforgettable story of one woman’s struggle to unearth the true history of Vietnam while also carving out a place for herself within it.
Vietnam, 1972: under a full moon, on the banks of the Song Ma River, a baby girl is pulled out of her dead mother’s grave. This is Rabbit, who is born with the ability to speak with the dead. She will flee from her destroyed village with a makeshift family thrown together by war. As Rabbit channels the voices of the dead, their chorus reconstructs the turbulent history of a nation, from the days of French Indochina and the World War II rubber plantations to the chaos of postwar reunification.
About the Author
Born in Saigon and raised on Boston’s north shore, Quan Barry is a professor of English at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and the author of four poetry books; her third book, Water Puppets, won the AWP Donald Hall Prize for Poetry and was a PEN/Open Book finalist. She has received NEA Fellowships in both fiction and poetry, and her work has appeared in such publications as Ms. and The New Yorker. Barry lives in Wisconsin.
“Haunting and beautiful. . . . A deft mix of folklore, magical realism and stories of struggle.” —Los Angeles Times
“Fascinating. . . . [A] deeply affecting novel.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Possesses the poetic heft of Jayne Anne Phillips’s Lark and Termite and a rawness that is somehow beautiful, as in Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried.” —The Boston Globe
“The great beauty of Quan Barry’s novel is in its transcendence . . . its attention to all the stories, whose sum is not darkness but light, not death but life.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Lyrical, luminous, and suspenseful. . . . Rendered with shocking clarity and pathos on the page. . . . This is a Vietnam of myriad faces, myriad aspects, beautiful and terrible all at once.” —Jesmyn Ward, National Book Award-winning author of Salvage the Bones
“Magnificent. . . . With a deep sensory intelligence that grounds the characters in their landscape and a prose style that elevates their lives into myth, this is not only a good or moving or surprising book but an essential one.” —Kevin Brockmeier, author of The Brief History of the Dead
“Barry’s absorbing debut paints a vivid, complex portrait of a land and an era that often elude American understanding.” —Marie Claire
“Mesmerizing. . . . [Barry] writes with stunning language, which carries the novel and elevates moments of heartbreak, despair, and perseverance.” —Publishers Weekly
“Fierce, stunning, and devastating. Readers haunted by . . . Chang-rae Lee’s A Gesture Life, and Tan Twan Eng’s The Gift of Rain will revel in it.” —Library Journal (starred review)
“An evocative and haunting exploration of Vietnam’s painful past.” —Booklist
“Beautiful, transporting. . . . A mesmerizing vista of Vietnam’s recent past. . . . Pays resonant tribute to the uncounted dead below the surface of a convulsed nation.” —Kirkus Reviews