It took me seven years, hundreds of revisions, many sleepless nights, tears... and finally THE MOUNTAINS SING is here. I am so thankful to you - my precious Readers - for the gift of your time: time that you have spent or will spend with the Trn family in my novel.
Grandma Diu Lan in THE MOUNTAINS SING is the grandmother I always wished for. Both my grandmothers had died before my birth and I wanted to have a grandma who would sing me lullabies, tell me the legends and tales of my village, as well as teach me what I needed to know about my family's history. Now, holding THE MOUNTAINS SING in my hands, I feel that I truly have a grandma. Thank you for sharing this joy with me!
Hng embodies my own experiences growing up in Vietnam and witnessing the war's devastating effect. But more than that, she represents a generation of Vietnamese who have no choice but inherit the trauma of war brought home by returning soldiers.
While this novel embraces some of my family's stories, I interviewed hundreds of people and fictionalised their stories into THE MOUNTAINS SING. I read hundreds of fiction and non-fiction books about Vietnam which helped me gain a deep understanding of our turbulent history.
While I have published eight books of fiction, poetry and non-fiction in Vietnamese language, I consider THE MOUNTAINS SING my most comprehensive work to-date. It is my desperate call for peace and for humans to love other human beings more. I echo my call in the form of this novel, because as in the words of Hng: "Somehow I was sure that if people were willing to read each other, and see the light of other cultures, there would be no war on earth."
I hope that the diacritical marks that accompany the Vietnamese names and words in THE MOUNTAINS SING don't interfere with your reading experiences. Those marks might look strange at first but they are as important as the roof of a home. The word "ma," for example, can be written as ma, má, mà, m, m, mã; each meaning very different things: ghost, mother, but, grave, young rice plant, horse. The word "bo" can become bó, b, b, b, b, b, bô, b, b, b (bunch, abandon, insect, butter, mushy, shore, chamberpot, father, mistress, nutritious.) By reading THE MOUNTAINS SING, you already show your acceptance and appreciation of my mother tongue's beauty and complexity. Thank you!
I only had a chance to learn English at 8th grade so penning this epic account of Vietnam's 20th century history in English felt like climbing a tall mountain bare foot. But I climbed with my pen in one hand and my Vietnamese-English dictionary in another. I climbed while reading English novels voraciously, learning new words every day so that these words would enter the realm of my unconsciousness.
In addition to language, I had to overcome many obstacles to be able to write this story, including fear of censorship. I am thankful to you, my Readers, for being there with me on this challenging journey as a writer.
I can't wait to hear your feedback and if you are on social media, please connect with me. Please take good care during the time of the coronavirus pandemic and stay safe.
With heartfelt thanks and warmest wishes,
Nguyn Phan Qu Mai