In 1969, sisters Trang and Quỳnh, desperate to help their parents pay off debts, leave their rural village and become “bar girls” in Sài Gòn, drinking, flirting (and more) with American GIs in return for money. As the war moves closer to the city, the once-innocent Trang gets swept up in an irresistible romance with a young and charming American helicopter pilot. Decades later, an American veteran, Dan, returns to Việt Nam with his wife, Linda, hoping to find a way to heal from his PTSD and, unbeknownst to her, reckon with secrets from his past.
At the same time, Phong—the son of a Black American soldier and a Vietnamese woman—embarks on a search to find both his parents and a way out of Việt Nam. Abandoned in front of an orphanage, Phong grew up being called “the dust of life,” “Black American imperialist,” and “child of the enemy,” and he dreams of a better life for himself and his family in the U.S.
Past and present converge as these characters come together to confront decisions made during a time of war—decisions that force them to look deep within and find common ground across race, generation, culture, and language. Suspenseful, poetic, and perfect for readers of Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko or Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing, Dust Child tells an unforgettable and immersive story of how those who inherited tragedy can redefine their destinies through love, hard-earned wisdom, compassion, courage, and joy.
Praise For Dust Child…
"Dazzling. Sharply drawn and hauntingly beautiful."
—Elif Shafak, author of The Island of Missing Trees
"Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai shows us the capacity we hold to confront our pasts, for the purpose of life is not to remain intact, but to break open, to let loss be a guide, to face the echoes of longing. In Dust Child, rupture leads to emotional richness and pain creates the pathways worth walking. I truly cannot wait for the rest of the world to celebrate this book."
—Chanel Miller, New York Times bestselling author of Know My Name
"Once again, Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai has written a beautiful novel that shines a light on the history of Vietnam. With a poet's grace, she writes of the legacy of war across time and place and the stories that bind us. Dust Child is simply stunning."
—Eric Nguyen, author of Things We Lost To The Water
"With a poet's gift for language and a psychologist's eye for the tender, error-prone hearts of mankind, Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai weaves a web of impossible choices, inescapable circumstance, and searing loss, set to the backdrop of a war that changed everything . . . A heartbreaking, beautifully told, utterly unique story of love, loss, and longing that speaks to the very heart of the human experience."
—Kristin Harmel, New York Times bestselling author of The Forest of Vanishing Stars
"Well-researched, realistic, and compassionately written, Dust Child brings to life the heartbreaking experiences of young American men and young Vietnamese women who were pulled into the vortex of the Việt Nam War and the tragedy inherited by their Amerasian children. Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai's powerful novel enables us to travel deep into Việt Nam's past and present days so that we can bear witness to the courage of her Amerasian, Vietnamese, and American characters. This eye-opening and fascinating novel is a must-read!"
—Le Ly Hayslip, bestselling author of When Heaven and Earth Changed Places and The Child of War, Woman of Peace
"Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai is one of the most unique storytellers of our time. She creates plots which are Dickensian in their breadth and mastery, while bravely probing the complex emotional challenges of living in a modern world full of disruption and displacement. In Dust Child, Quế Mai displays the same tenderness and compassion for her characters, hard-earned understanding of human trauma, and poetically evocative language that made her debut novel The Mountains Sing an international bestseller beloved around the world."
—Natalie Jenner, internationally bestselling author of The Jane Austen Society
“The sons and daughters of American soldiers and their Vietnamese girlfriends who exhibited African American and European features were shunned by Vietnam’s monoethnic society during and after the war. Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai writes of some of these "dust children" with complexity and heart. This is a powerful and moving story, brilliantly told."
—Robert Mason, New York Times bestselling author of Chickenhawk
“In her riveting successor to The Mountains Sing, Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai has masterfully captured the toll of war and its aftermath on a black Amerasian, an outcast in the country of his birth, on an American vet, haunted and seeking redemption, and on two Vietnamese sisters, forced by economic hardship into circumstances they could not have foreseen. Nguyễn creates, in her luminous prose, a gripping and nuanced narrative of men and women caught in the web of war and its aftermath.”
—Steven DeBonis, author of Children of the Enemy: Oral Histories of Vietnamese Amerasians and Their Mothers
"With great compassion, with a firm conviction in the redeeming power of love and forgiveness, and with the consummate skill of a great story-teller, Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai weaves us into the lives, past and present, of those called “the dust of life”—the ostracized, mixed-race children of American soldiers; their mothers, compelled by war into prostitution, and their fathers, the G.I.’s who abandoned them and yet remained haunted by them."
—Professor Wayne Karlin, author of Wandering Souls: Journeys with the Deadand the Living in Viet Nam
Algonquin Books, 9781643752754, 336pp.
Publication Date: March 14, 2023