Dust Child

Algonquin. Mar. 2023. 336p. ISBN 9781643752754. $28. F
Vietnamese author Nguyen’s follow-up to her PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Award–winning The Mountains Sing is a book of searches. The child of a Vietnamese woman and a Black U.S. soldier, Phong was abandoned at birth at a Catholic orphanage and has been scorned since by his compatriots as the “dust of life.” He wants desperately to find his father so that he can take his family to the United States. Dan is a white U.S. soldier returning four decades after the Vietnam War in hope of finding Kim, who worked as a bar girl in former Saigon to help pay off family debts and whom Dan abandoned when she got pregnant. As these two searches converge, we learn Phong’s and Kim’s stories and see how Dan’s views on his wartime experience have evolved: “It had taken him years of…reading to understand that he’d been sent to Viet Nam to save it from the Vietnamese, and saving it from the Vietnamese meant killing them. By the millions.” Nguyen makes the suffering of the Vietnamese people during and after the war painfully real, while moving forward to reconciliation; toward the end, a key character wishes the regime would acknowledge “the human cost of the war on all sides.”
VERDICT Achingly honest and ultimately hopeful; essential reading for U.S. audiences.
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