The Mountains Sing (Hardcover)

By Que Mai Phan Nguyen

Algonquin Books, 9781616208189, 352pp.

Publication Date: March 17, 2020

List Price: 26.95*
* Individual store prices may vary.


“An epic account of Việt Nam’s painful 20th century history, both vast in scope and intimate in its telling . . . Moving and riveting.” —VIET THANH NGUYEN, author of The Sympathizer, winner of the Pulitzer Prize

With the epic sweep of Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko or Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing and the lyrical beauty of Vaddey Ratner’s In the Shadow of the Banyan, The Mountains Sing tells an enveloping, multigenerational tale of the Trần family, set against the backdrop of the Việt Nam War. Trần Diệu Lan, who was born in 1920, was forced to flee her family farm with her six children during the Land Reform as the Communist government rose in the North. Years later in Hà Nội, her young granddaughter, Hương, comes of age as her parents and uncles head off down the Hồ Chí Minh Trail to fight in a conflict that tore not just her beloved country, but her family apart.

Vivid, gripping, and steeped in the language and traditions of Việt Nam, The Mountains Sing brings to life the human costs of this conflict from the point of view of the Vietnamese people themselves, while showing us the true power of kindness and hope.

The Mountains Sing is celebrated Vietnamese poet Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’s first novel in English.

About the Author

Born into the Viet Nam War in 1973, Nguyen Phan Que Mai grew up witnessing the war’s devastation and its aftermath. She worked as a street seller and rice farmer before winning a scholarship to attend university in Australia. She is the author of eight books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction published in Vietnamese, and her writing has been translated and published in more than 10 countries, most recently in Norton’s Inheriting the War anthology. She has been honored with many awards, including the Poetry of the Year 2010 Award from the Ha Noi Writers Association, as well as many grants and fellowships. Married to a European diplomat, Que Mai is currently living in Jakarta with her two teenage children. For more information about Nguyen Phan Que Mai, visit her at

Praise For The Mountains Sing

“A sweeping story that positions Vietnamese life within the ​rich and luminous history of national epics like The Tale of Kieu and the Iliad. Expansive in scope and feeling,The Mountains Sing is a feat of hope, an unflinchingly felt inquiry into the past, with the courageous storytelling of the present.”
—Ocean Vuong, MacArthur award winner and author of On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

The Mountains Sing is an epic account of Việt Nam’s painful 20th century history, both vast in scope and intimate in its telling. Through the travails of one family, Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai brings us close to the horrors of famine, war, and class struggle. But in this moving and riveting novel, she also shows us a postwar Việt Nam, a country of hope and renewal, home to a people who have never given up.” 
Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of The Sympathizer, winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize

“Over the last two decades we have been gifted with works by Vietnamese writers who have brought us into the consciousness of those that Americans saw only as backdrops for their own stories. Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai not only adds to that rich body of work, she daringly transcends it.”
Wayne Karlin, author of Wandering Souls, winner of the Vietnam Veterans of America Excellence in the Arts Award

Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai has written a wonderful, intricate story of the lives of a Vietnamese family trying to make it through generations of war. The Mountains Sing is a beautiful story of the simple challenge of keeping a family together and the courage of perseverance. It is told with the sureness of a master storyteller with a poet’s spirit. A large and complicated story, marvelous to read.”
Larry Heinemann, author of Paco’s Story, winner of the National Book Award
“A poignant and vivid portrayal of a brutal slice of Vietnamese history from a perspective that is so rarely heard abroad: that of the Vietnamese themselves. We are starkly reminded of how those wars – and wars everywhere – wash over and drown both the guilty and innocent alike.”
Doreen Baingana, author of Tropical Fish: Stories out of Entebbe, winner of the 2006 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, best first book, Africa Region
“Based on Que Mai’s family history and on the lives of the people around her in village and city life, The Mountains Sing is the story of four generations of the Tran family told from the point of view of the family matriarch and her granddaughter, a wise young girl who provides, in contrast to her grandmother’s rich and moving story, the perspective of the generation that literally grew up with the war.  But this is not simply another war story, or another example of so-called 'Vietnam Lit' because this is a manuscript distinct in its story-telling techniques. This is a story about the power of hope and love in the face of the worst imaginable circumstances, framed by a beautifully clear arc and peopled by the fully developed characters of the Tran family who come alive and seem to sit right there beside us to tell their story. In The Mountains Sing, Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai has found a true and clear voice in English that is rich and compelling the way only those who come to English as a second language can sometimes manage.”
Bruce Weigl, Pulitzer Prize Finalist and author of the bestselling memoir The Circle of Hanh

“Although I am hesitant to use the word, this is an epic novel. Quế Mai has pulled off something rather extraordinary here – she is teaching her readers large swathes of Vietnamese history, while never losing a novelist’s connection with the emotional reality of her characters. Since she is writing not simply about a war but one still in living memory, parts of this story are very painful and dark but she neither shies away from this nor alienates the reader from it. There were points when I wanted the horror to stop, but I never wanted to stop reading. The structure is clever, the writing often evocative, the characters convincing and very touching and the whole narrative deeply engaging. And this is a first novel! Impressive.”
Sara Maitland, author of Daughter of Jerusalem, winner of the Somerset Maugham Award

“The Mountains Sing is an enthralling family saga, set against the turmoil of war and a changing political climate. Inspired by real life events, Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’s story will thrill, shock and terrify the reader in equal measure. It will also inspire them with its life-affirming qualities of everyday heroism and survival against all the odds.”
Philip Caveney, author of twelve adult novels and winner of the 2016 Scottish Children's Book Awards