(Reviewed by Karma Sawka FEB 20, 2003)"What a fool he had been, thinking that he could escape his obligation. In all the years he had watched life as a spectator, he had been marking time, as surely as the ticking clock in his mother's room. Clearly he was, after all, just one more marionette in a puppet show orchestrated by some invisible force. A supreme being, perhaps? What about his free will, and how could he exercise it?"
The novel opens in 1916 Vietnam, with a bridal sampan being paddled down the Perfume River. Upon arrival at the banks of the groom's village, the bride disembarks and is taken, through the back door, into her groom's family home. She waits alone for hours, listening to the revelers outside celebrating her marriage, and nervously wondering who her groom will be. When she finds out that it is a seven-year-old boy, she quickly realizes that she has become a slave-bride, cheap labor for the family. Little does she know how this marriage will drastically change her life's path.
At first, the language felt flat to me, difficult to feel engaged with. I realized later that it was probably the formality of the prose that I was reacting to. Nguyen tells his tale - inspired by his own grandfather's life story -- with a certain degree of elegance. Without giving away the storyline that kept me going, readers will find within these pages piracy, murder, slavery, imprisonment, forbidden romance, poverty, wealth, familial destiny, revenge whew. It seemed a bit far-fetched and, as I mentioned, overly orchestrated, to me, but the plot kept moving along, pulling me with it. I wanted to know how it all turned out and if Dan, Ven, Tai May, Lady Chin and the rest of the characters would find their destinies.
As I read, I envisioned this story being told on film in a well-designed Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon sort of way. The emphasis on good versus evil, the action, danger, and romance in this Vietnamese family saga, told with rich cultural and historic accuracy, will appeal to those who enjoy a fast paced novel where, in spite of many miseries and obstacles, the noble, virtuous hero will overcome.
- Amazon readers rating: from 17 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from The Tapestries at MostlyFiction.com
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- The Tapestries (November 2002)
- Le Colonial (August 2004)
- The Unwanted: A Memoir of Childhood (March 2001)
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- Star Tribune article on Kien Nguyen and his family history
- BookReporter.com review of The Unwanted: A Memoir
- AdoptVietnam review of The Unwanted
- ThoseBrownEyes.com review of The Unwanted
- Star Tribune review of The Tapestries
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About the Author:
Kien Nguyen was just seven when Saigon fell to the communists in 1975. The son of an American father who had abandoned him and a socially prominent Vietnamese mother, Nguyen eventually was taken with his mother's best friend on a small fishing boat headed for the Philippines. On route, they were confronted with weapons and pushed overboard. His mother's friend drowned. Nguyen was nearly killed, but after days at sea made it back to shore, where he was arrested for trying to escape and imprisoned in a slave-labor camp. He finally left Vietnam in 1979, when the communists struck a deal with the United Nations that allowed 50,000 Amerasians to enter the United States through the "Orderly Departure Program."
Dr. Kien Nguyen is a 1998 graduate of the NYU College of Dentistry and had a solo practice in Manhattan for awhile. He had been suffering from horrible nightmares and started to record his bad dreams, and what originated as a therapeutic outlet turned into The Unwanted. He gave up his solo practice to make writing his priority, but did not give up denstistry completely as he worked one-day-a-week in someone else's office.
Dr. Nguyen has recently joined the NYU College of Dentristry Facility and lives in New York City.