Are you in a book rut? Would you like a jolt to your reading life? Please pick up this novel and dive into not only the puzzle, but (if you’re anything like me) various internet rabbit holes about the history of Vietnam that it’s possible (likely?) you have never been taught.
This story moves through time, with a larger cast of characters, but the framing mystery is the disappearance of Winnie. Winnie is half Vietnamese and an American, but traveled to Saigon to teach English. She feels almost invisible in her life – she is much younger than her three older siblings (with names that rhyme with each other – but not Winnie). She often feels at odds with even her own body. We know from the first section title that Winnie will disappear – there are no numbered chapters in this book, but each section begins by establishing their distance in time from Winnie’s disappearance.
Winnie’s disappearance might also be linked to another disappearance back in 1986 – at that time, the daughter of a wealthy mob boss went missing in the woods behind a former rubber plantation. That woman’s story, and how it is linked to Winnie’s disappearance in 2011, are laid out over decades. French colonialism plays a part. There’s also two headed cobras, and smoke monsters, fortune telling and talking dogs. To understand the link between the two women, you must also delve into the supernatural – but also the super human elements of the world. This story weaves magical realism into a world full of bored teenagers, horny young adults, and siblings with deep rivalries. Sex, money, magic, a little murder, what more can you want?
The jacket describes this book as a “fever dream” – this is apt. It’s also one that you’ll relish, eager to turn the page to uncover more. Highly recommended for your summer reading list!