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Dust Child
by Que Mai Phan Nguyen

Published: 2023-03-14T00:0
Hardcover : 336 pages
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From the bestselling author of The Mountains Sing, a richly poetic and suspenseful saga about two Vietnamese sisters, an American veteran, and an Amerasian man whose lives intersect in surprising ways, set during and after the war in Vi?t Nam.

In 1969, sisters Trang and Qu?nh, ...

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From the bestselling author of The Mountains Sing, a richly poetic and suspenseful saga about two Vietnamese sisters, an American veteran, and an Amerasian man whose lives intersect in surprising ways, set during and after the war in Vi?t Nam.

In 1969, sisters Trang and Qu?nh, desperate to help their parents pay off debts, leave their rural village to work at a bar in Sài Gòn. Once in the big city, the young girls are thrown headfirst into a world they were not expecting. They learn how to speak English, how to dress seductively, and how to drink and flirt (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 handsome and kind American helicopter pilot she meets at the bar.

Decades later, an American veteran, Dan, returns to Vi?t Nam with his wife, Linda, in search of a way to heal from his PTSD; instead, secrets he thought he had buried surface and threaten his marriage. At the same time, Phongâ??the adult son of a Black American soldier and a Vietnamese womanâ??embarks on a mission to find both his parents and a way out of Vi?t Nam. Abandoned in front of an orphanage, Phong grew up being called â??the dust of life,â? â??Black American imperialist,â? and â??child of the enemy,â? and he dreams of a better life in the United States for himself, his wife Bình, and his children.

Past and present converge as these characters come together to confront decisions made during a time of warâ??decisions that reverberate throughout one anotherâ??s lives and ultimately allow them to find common ground across race, generation, culture, and language. Immersive, moving, and lyrical, Dust Child tells an unforgettable story of how those who inherited tragedy can redefine their destinies with hard-won wisdom, compassion, courage, and joy.

Editorial Review

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Child of the Enemy
H? Chí Minh City, 2016
â??Life is a boat,â? Sister Nhã, the Catholic nun who had raised Phong, once told him. â??When you depart from your first anchorâ??your motherâ??s wombâ??you will be pulled away by unexpected currents. If you can fill your boat with enough hope, enough self-belief, enough compassion, and enough curiosity, you will be ready to weather all the storms of life.â? ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

From the publisher--added by Pauline

1. What did you know about Amerasians born into the Vi?t Nam War before you read this book? How do Phong’s experiences influence your thoughts about the impact of wars on women and children? What could be done to prevent these situations?

2. Were you aware of the number of Vietnamese women who worked in bars that served American soldiers? Describe the nature of the trauma and social ostracism that Trang and Qu?nh faced. How did the experience influence the relationship between the two sisters?

3. Describe Dan when he first arrived in Vi?t Nam, in 1969. Why was Trang first attracted to him? Trace how—and how much—the war changed Dan. Do you think wars have the power to change the moral character of human beings?

4. Which elements of Vietnamese culture described in Dust Child stood out to you?

5. Via the experiences of Linda and Thanh (the son of the Northern Vietnamese veteran who suffers from Alzheimer's), describe how war trauma is inherited by family members. What have Linda and Thanh done to help their loved ones cope with their trauma?

6. Discuss the ethics and complexity involved in the Amerasians’ search for missing parents. How do these ethical issues compare to other instances of people searching for their birth parents or lost family members?

7. How does Phong demonstrate his determination to survive and prosper? Describe his transformation throughout the book.

8. Describe the difficult decisions that Trang and Qu?nh had to make. What would you have done if you were in their situation?

9. What is Dan’s initial motivation for returning to Vi?t Nam? Do his reasons change during his trip? If so, how and why?

10. In Dust Child, Vietnamese words appear with their full diacritical marks in chapters written from the viewpoints of Vietnamese speakers. These marks are necessary to interpret meaning: for example, in Nun Nhã’s name, nhã means “elegant,” while nhà means “house,” nh? means “release,” nh? means “music,” nha means “teeth” or “dental,” nhá means “to chew carefully.” In chapters written from Dan’s voice, the diacritical marks are stripped away. Did the use of diacritical marks affect your reading experience? What do these two ways of representing the Vietnamese language show you? Does Dan’s understanding of the importance of diacritics change?

11. In the novel, Qu?nh says, “She had tried to live an honest life, but the war had given her no choice. It had forced her to make up a version of herself that was acceptable to others. In a way, making up stories had been the basis of her survival and her success.” Can lies be necessary for love, survival, and dignity? Were you surprised at Qu?nh’s decision, and what do you think about her as a mother?

12. Which Vietnamese proverbs in the book are your favorites? Which ones demean Vietnamese women? Do you have similar proverbs in your culture?

13. Have you tried any of the Vietnamese food described in the novel? Which ones would you like to eat and/or try to cook?

14. “Conversation about books represented the most intimate discourse. It revealed a person’s values, beliefs, fears, and hopes. Experiencing the same books enabled people to travel on similar journeys and brought them closer together,” Dan reflected in the novel. Do you agree with his statement? Has your book club enriched your life? If so, how?

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Member Reviews

Overall rating:
  "A Perfect Book Club Choice"by Barbara C. (see profile) 03/22/23

This story is compelling, heartbreaking and so beautifully written by an author known for her poetry. Nguyen Phan Que Mai does an impressive job of showing us the far reaching impact war has on all those... (read more)

  "The book raises serious questions."by Gail R. (see profile) 12/19/22

Dust Child-Que Mai Phan Nguyen, author
This is a heartbreaking book about the Vietnam War. It highlights the dreadful effects of it on those that experienced the hardship that it brought, b
... (read more)

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