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Banyan Moon


Banyan Moon

Three generations of Vietnamese women reckon with lifetimes of secrets, resentments and betrayals in BANYAN MOON. Thao Thai’s debut novel is a sweeping, multifaceted story of legacy, grief and, above all, love --- especially the kind that doesn’t look the way you expect.

Spanning the years and continents from 1960s Vietnam to present-day Florida, BANYAN MOON begins in 1998 during an ill-fated beach trip between matriarch Minh; her daughter, Huong; and her granddaughter, Ann. Huong has taken a rare day off to spend time with her precocious seven-year-old daughter. But when they approach the coast, they find that the red tide has come, making the beach practically uninhabitable and serving as a warning that Huong’s family is as badly placed as the sand they walk on.

"BANYAN MOON reads like an instant classic that no doubt will be passed from mother to daughter and beyond. This perfect book club read will stick with you for a very long time, and I suspect it will dominate this year’s 'Best Of' lists."

Huong has long dreamed of giving her daughter everything American children should have: two parents, a room decorated in her favorite colors, expensive clothes with frills and ruffles, and, of course, a life she can be proud of. But as she works endlessly in pursuit of this dream, it is Minh who Ann turns to when she wants a bedtime story or a wound kissed. Mother-daughter relations are never easy, but for Huong her mother’s warmth also represents a cruelty. She remembers Minh only as aloof and cold, nowhere near the warm, comforting presence that her daughter has come to know.

Immersing readers right into the deepest corners of the mother-daughter-granddaughter relationship, Thai fast-forwards to the present. Ann and her mother have not seen each other in years, but they are about to be forced together by the death of Minh. At the time of Minh’s passing, Ann is a successful artist living a glamorous life with her wealthy, privileged professor boyfriend, Noah. Ann is welcome at Noah’s family’s lavish parties, full of bubbling champagne and designer dresses, but she is also met with microaggressions: people who call her “Tran” instead of “Ann,” fellow diners who wonder if she has ever had lobster before, and so on.

On the night that we meet adult Ann, she is under the weather with what she believes to be a persistent headache, but is in fact a headache of a very different sort: an unplanned pregnancy...with the man who has been cheating on her. The death of her grandmother is not the lifeline she would have chosen, but with it comes a reason to run away from Noah, his family and the hold he may want over her pregnancy. So she flees to Florida to reunite with her mother for the first time in years.

Although Minh herself never understood it, the rift between Huong and her daughter had a solid, identifiable beginning: a fight that began with teenage Ann taking the car out during a storm and ended in the hospital with a resounding slap. Starting that night, Ann lived with her beloved grandmother, effectively estranging herself from her mother and ripping open years of mistakes, betrayals and resentments.

Now, with their matriarch and interpreter dead, Huong and Ann are back in Banyan House, a creeping gothic mansion owned by Minh and left to them in an even split. With Ann pregnant herself, the house represents not just their grief, but an opportunity to welcome a new generation into the family, one that will not know any of the bitter feelings held between the previous three generations of women. But first, Huong and Ann will have to learn the truth about one another. Ghostly Minh will watch as her daughter and granddaughter, her greatest treasures, accept the inheritance of their legacies and love.

Alternating between past and present, war-torn Vietnam and crushing America, angry daughter and…angry daughter, Thai paints gorgeous, fully rendered portraits of real, authentically human women and the relationships between them. As Huong and Ann try to mend past rifts and settle into a new dynamic, Minh tells her own story, one of teenage pregnancy and true love, of tough choices and tougher rewards, all the while breaking down her own walls to reveal the reasons and ways she became the indomitable matriarch she was.

With the two storylines running parallel to one another, the book becomes an epic story of inheritance: the sentimental items we infuse with dreams for our future children and grandchildren, but also the behaviors that turn into traits and inform generations of patterns after us. But where Thai really shines is in her characters’ inner monologues, as they reveal deep-seated hurts and misunderstandings that have created strained, weighty dynamics between each of the three women at the heart of the novel. Rife with feelings of inadequacy, shame, guilt and, somehow, hope, these women live and breathe with each turn of the page, delivering gut-punch revelations and tear-jerking moments of unconditional love.

BANYAN MOON reads like an instant classic that no doubt will be passed from mother to daughter and beyond. This perfect book club read will stick with you for a very long time, and I suspect it will dominate this year’s "Best Of" lists.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on June 30, 2023

Banyan Moon
by Thao Thai

  • Publication Date: June 4, 2024
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books
  • ISBN-10: 0063267144
  • ISBN-13: 9780063267145