5 Nov 2021

Author Talks About Culture, History and Hollywood

Elements course ‘Writers’ Block’ held an interactive ‘Meet the Author’ Zoom session with Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai, the author of the prize winning novel, The Mountains Sing, on 27 October 2021.

The Mountains Sing tells the story of four generations of the Trấn family, starting from the great-grandparents, to a little girl- Hương. The book was told from the perspective of Hương’s grandmother, Diêu Lan. During the Land Reform in 1955, Diêu Lan was forced to leave her family’s flourishing farm, with five out of her six children, making hard decisions along the way. The family gets separated but years later, she takes care of Hương, her granddaughter, whilst the members of their family go off to fight in the war that’s tearing their country apart.

During the Zoom session, students not only learnt about different aspects of Vietnamese culture and language, they also heard about the importance of representation in Hollywood movies. Quế Mai, the author talked about how Viêt Nam books were made into movies- but very few Viêt Nam actors were actually in the movie itself. She emphasised how Asians were stereotyped in movies, even those coming from different countries like Japan or Hong Kong.

Quế Mai also talked about the purpose of The Mountains Sing – that she wanted to represent the culture and history of the war in Viêt Nam, and address her personal experience in the story itself.

Reading the book, I loved the excerpts when Diêu Lan described her tale of survival to Hương. She mentioned the disrespectful treatment of her family and the stealing of their land, the goodbyes to her own children, and the sad story of her past. This story was heartbreaking and touching, with traditions and lullabies from Viêt Nam, giving a poignant account of what it takes to have the strength and courage to thrive in the war.

I would encourage others to read the book because it’s really interesting to read a novel in English by a Viêtnamese author. I loved reading it and I would recommend it to anyone expressing their interest in the impact of war, Viêt Nam’s people, traditions and history.

Article by Ava Au Yeung 9D