The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai

themountainssingThe Mountains Sing is a bittersweet family saga of the Tran family in north Vietnam. Alternating between Huong and her grandmother, Dieu Lan’s, perspectives, we follow some notable moments in Vietnam’s history as well as the outcome and effect to the people living there at that time. Dieu Lan and her family were victims of the Land reform in the north. They lost everything when the communist government came to power and were forced to flee. They soon settled and started a new life in Hanoi. Fifty years later, Vietnam is at war again. Huong grieves for the loss of her parents.

I liked the characters in this book, the different journeys, trials and hardships they each had to face and the emphasis on how important family is. Dieu Lan is my new favorite character. I loved her. I loved how resilient and resolute she was despite the horrible choices she had to make in order for her and her children to survive. Oh, the love of a mother!

I loved Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’s writing. It felt very personal while reading. It felt like Dieu Lan and Huong were speaking to me directly. It made me feel the pain, how unbearable the situation was during the war, how injustice affected a lot of people, but they tried their best to live, to keep on going.

This is a family saga filled with heartbreak and tragedy. But it is also full of hope and love. It’s the kind of book that can make you feel.

Highly recommended.

Quotable Quotes:

“I realized that war was monstrous. If it didn’t kill those it touched, it took away a piece of their souls, so they could never be whole again.”

“Whenever humans failed us, it was nature who could help save us.”

“The more I read, the more I became afraid of wars. Wars have the power to turn graceful and cultured people into monsters.”

“Human lives were short and fragile. Time and illnesses consumed us, like flames burning away these pieces of wood. But it didn’t matter how long or short we lived. It mattered more how much light we were able to shed on those we loved and how many people we touched with our compassion.”

“The challenges faced by Vietnamese people are as tall as the tallest mountains. If you stand too close, you won’t be able to see their peaks. Once you step away from the currents of life, you will have the full view.”

Rating: 5/5 stars


Gia Rai Tomb

Gia Rai is one among the 54 ethnic groups of Vietnam.

Funeral rites for the Gia Rai people are complex and expensive. Water buffalo and cows are usually offered as sacrifice. They follow a custom that all the people of the same matriarchy family must be buried in the same tomb when they die. Below is a replica of a Gia Rai tomb displayed in the Museum of Ethnology in Hanoi.


Thirty dead people can be buried in this tomb. It is also said that the tomb house is for the dead in the afterlife. There are totally 27 carvings surrounding the tomb and the most prominent are carvings of sexually-explicit figures of men and women and children seated in the corners of the tomb house.

The pictures below are some funerary statues displayed inside the museum.


Water Puppet Theater


An outdoor Water Puppet Theater in the Museum of Ethnology, Hanoi, Vietnam.

Ede House

The Ede (or Rade people) is one among the 54 ethnic groups of Vietnam.

Below is a photo of a typical Ede House.


This Ede Long House was originally built in 1967 and was reconstructed in the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology in 2000. The house reflects many aspects of Ede culture. I learned that Ede families are matriarchal. The head of the family is a woman, children bear their mother’s surname, daughters inherit family assets, the groom moves to his bride’s house after marriage, etc. A new compartment is added every time a girl in the house gets married. It is said that the longer the house, the more prosperous the family is.


An Ede House is divided in two parts: the Gah and the Ok. The Gah, basically the living room, as shown in the photo above, is used for gatherings. Jars and gongs are kept and displayed in this part of the house for the rich Ede families. The Gah occupies around 1/3 to 2/3 of the house and the rest is the Ok, mainly the area for sleeping.


The most interesting part of the house for me are the staircases. For rich families, there are two staircases in front of the house, one for males which are just plain and another for females, where a crescent and female breasts are carved.

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