Reviews

“Like a strip of curtain between the dead and the living, Fire Summer is at once ephemeral and expansive. A haunting debut from a writer whose characters, lovingly described, pass not only through rivers and airports, but also despair and separation. We are ferried with them to the other side – one where the fractured are finally come home.” Uzma Aslam Khan, author of Trespassing and Thinner Than Skin

“‘What is the shape of one’s life when one’s action is based on love?’ So asks a character in Thuy Da Lam’s lyrical novel, Fire Summer, a work that shows us the Vietnam beyond the war movies. Lam deftly explores the slippery interplay between heritage and identity, history and duty,ultimately proving that each of us is so much more than the places we come from. An important debut.” Quan Barry, author of She Weeps Each Time You’re Born

“In Fire Summer, past and present blend with here and there in ways that continually surprise, yet somehow seem destined. Vietnam is the setting and the legacy for the returning expatriate Maia, and for an entourage of vivid characters who encounter and reencounter each other as they travel from the shores to the mountains, searching for family, closure, and a home. A beautiful, funny, and stunning novel that will reward repeated reading.” Craig Howes, author of Voices of the Vietnam POWs: Witnesses to Their Fight

“Fire Summer delivers a war-ravaged Vietnam rich in history, folklore, the tragedy of families torn asunder, and the beauty of Buddhist wisdom that connects the living and dead. Suspenseful, Thuy Da Lam’s story of Maia Trieu’s journey home is an impressive debut.” Charles Johnson, author of Middle Passage

“A girl plucked from the high seas off Vietnam is sent as a young woman to connect with an aging guerilla faction. A detective story, a quest for the mythic heart of Vietnam on its stones and soil – a novel of rare beauty.” Robert Onopa, author of The Pleasure Tube

“Thuy Da Lam paints a vibrant portrait of post-war Vietnam, illuminating both the dangers and the great beauty of a country in the process of healing itself.” Kristine Huntley, Booklist

“Book Review: Fire Summer.” Janet J. Graham, diaCRITICS https://diacritics.org/2019/09/book-review-fire-summer/

“Not Just Another Back-to-Vietnam Story.” Don Wallace, Honolulu Magazine http://www.honolulumagazine.com/Honolulu-Magazine/December-2019/7-Local-Hawaii-Books-to-Solve-Your-Gift-Giving-Gap-This-Holiday/

“Không Chỉ Là Một Câu Chuyện Trở Về Lại Việt Nam.” Van Ngo, diaCRITICS https://diacritics.org/2020/03/khong-chi-la-mot-cau-chuyen-tro-ve-lai-viet-nam/

A Trickster

A folk hero of Vietnam, Trạng Quỳnh has bequeathed laughter to generations of Vietnamese. This folk character is based on a historical figure, Nguyễn Quỳnh who lived during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Trạng Quỳnh exploits the polyglossic and heteroglossic conditions of Vietnam, a boundary-crosser who disrupts and transforms the established Truth of his time. As a mandarin at the imperial court, he ignores hierarchical social forms, decorum, and ceremonies. In the story “Thi Ngũ Quả,” for example, he presents the Lord Trịnh with a painting of a woman rather than a platter of five fruits, depicting his portrait as follows:

The lady’s head is a pomelo, her eyes like longans, breasts like peaches, palms like Buddha’s Hands, her garden, a fragrant wedge of jackfruit.

The Wife Rock

The story of Hòn Vọng Phu, a wife who turns into stone waiting for her husband’s return, shapes and is shaped by the physical terrains of Vietnam and its people’s artistic expressions. In all four provinces, from central highland Vietnam to its northern border with China, stands a wife rock atop a mountain cradling a child waiting for her husband’s return; some folks say that he has gone fishing in the South China Sea, others that he has gone off to war. Classified sometimes as a folktale, fairy tale or legend, the story has been retold through numerous genres and media—poetry, short fiction, novel, song, painting, and film. Why is Hòn Vọng Phu so prevalent in the imagination of the Vietnamese?

Thuy Da Lam was born in central Vietnam, grew up in the northeastern US, and now lives in Honolulu. She holds a BA in creative writing from Hamilton College and a PhD in English from the University of Hawai‘i. She is a recipient of the George A. Watrous Literary Prize for Fiction, the Myrle Clark Writing Award, and the John Young Scholarship in the Arts. Her debut novel, Fire Summer, is a revision of her dissertation, part of which appeared in Lost Lake Folk Opera in commemoration of the fortieth anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War. Outside of teaching, she finds deep satisfaction caring for a patch of land beneath the Koʻolau Range and writing her next novel, Heaven in a Wildflower, a love story between a night telescope operator seeking the universe’s origin and a pentimento looking for her referent. Her work is represented by the Jennifer Lyons Literary Agency.

Appearances

  • Sept. 15, 2019. Shakespeare & Co., New York, NY, “Words in Honor of Paul Lyons.”
  • Sept. 16, 2019. Trident Booksellers, Boston, MA, with Alan Lightman.
  • Sept. 17, 2019. KGB Bar, New York, NY.
  • Sept. 19, 2019. Hamilton College, Clinton, NY.
  • Oct. 11, 2019. University of Hawai’i at Mānoa, Kuykendall Hall 410.
  • Dec. 15, 2019. da Shop, 3565 Harding Ave., Honolulu, HI.
  • Feb. 7, 2020. Pohai Nani, Kaneohe, HI.

Where the stream emptied into a lake

she saw a footbridge swaying in the breeze. Go across the bridge to the marketplace. She looked around. She heard the buzzing of a market and smelled roasted meat. She crossed the footbridge. The open marketplace spread along the lakeside. “Mua đi! Mua đi!” a blind peddler cried, clutching her basket of pink mountain apples. “Come buy! Come buy! Fresh fish. Sweet fruit. Roasted pig. Come try!”

from Fire Summer

To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

And Eternity in an hour

–William Blake

Mirrors

In our present day of globalization in which cross-cultural understanding is crucial in establishing a worldwide community of diversity within unity, striving to be mirrors for others as well as seeking mirrors in others for self-reflection is necessary for genuine understanding. Both components are essential in our work toward cross-cultural understanding, toward a “fusion of horizons,” to use Hans-Georg Gadamer’s words, in which what emerges is neither oneself or another, but a transformed commonality. This commonality is a space in which ideas from dissimilar traditions are played out in interactions that involve transformations while remaining distinct. The fusion of horizons entails a dynamic interplay of diverse traditions in which similarities, differences, and changes are recognized. The metaphor evokes an image of intersecting light beams, with each junction a site of dialogue, shared similarities, and transformations. Like light beams that refract and diffuse when they cross paths, dialogues between traditions expand their horizons. The trajectories continue on new paths. As important is the contiguous space where the trajectories do not intersect, a space where we can agree to disagree. This mutual recognition of our differences is a kind of bridge-building, an essential step toward what Ien Ang describes as a global community of “togetherness-in-difference.” This ideal of diversity within unity is possible when we strive to be mirrors for others as well as seek mirrors in others for self-understanding.

Waiting

I stopped waiting for her years ago. Ba said she was my Má. Whenever she held me in her arms and smoothed the waves out in my hair, she said I must have belonged to a black GI and another woman. Still, she sang songs to me that were written before liberation. At the age of five, I felt a sadness in her voice that I later saw reflected in her eyes. Not until many years afterward did I understand her sadness, but already, the waves had washed it upon another shore–and no longer I wait.