Mrs. Rossi’s Dream by Khanh Ha
Publisher: The Permanent Press (March 1, 2019)
Category: Historical Fiction, Vietnam, Literary Fiction, Multicultural
Tour dates: Mar-Apr, 2019
Available in Print and ebook, 312 pages
“I live in a coastal town in the deep south of the Mekong Delta. During the war this was IV Corps, which saw many savage fights. Although the battles might have long been forgotten, some places cannot forget.”
Thus begins the harrowing yet poignant story of a North Vietnamese communist defector who spends ten years in a far-flung reform prison after the war, and now, in 1987, a free man again, finds work as caretaker at a roadside inn in the U Minh region. One day new guests arrived at the inn: an elderly American woman and her daughter, an eighteen-year-old Vietnamese girl adopted at the age of five from an orphanage in the Mekong Delta before the war ended. Catherine Rossi has come to this region to find the remains of her son, a lieutenant who went missing-in-action during the war.
“Mrs. Rossi’s Dream” tells the stories of two men in time parallel: Giang, the 39-year-old war veteran; Nicola Rossi, a deceased lieutenant in the U.S. army, the voice of a spirit.
From the haunting ugliness of the Vietnam War, the stories of these two men shout, cry and whisper to us the voices of love and loneliness, barbarity and longing, lived and felt by a multitude of people from all walks of life: the tender adolescent vulnerability of a girl toward a man who, as a drifter and a war-hardened man, draws beautifully in his spare time; the test of love and faith endured by a mother whose dogged patience even baffles the local hired hand who thinks the poor old lady must have gone out of her mind; and whose determination drives her into the spooky forest, rain or shine, until one day she claims she has sensed an otherworldly presence in there with her. In the end she wishes to see, just once, a river the local Vietnamese call “The River of White Water Lilies,” the very river her son saw, now that all her hopes to find his remains die out.
Just then something happens. She finds out where he has lain buried for twenty years?and how he was killed.
Parts of the book were previously published in literary magazines and became finalists for the following awards:
2016 Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction (Sarabande Books)
2016 Many Voices Project (New Rivers Press)
2016 Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Fiction (Prairie Schooner)
2015 William Faulkner – William Wisdom Creative Writing Award (Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society)
A short story adapted from the book won the 2013 Robert Watson Literary Prize in Fiction (The Greensboro Review)
Guest Review by Nora S.
Memories are a funny thing. Sometimes they can take you back to a different time and place so effectively that they feel like time travel. Such is the case for the characters in Khanh Ha’s book, “Mrs. Rossi’s Dream.” It is a book about a group of characters who are tortured and influenced by the past in many ways.
Take for instance, the character of Giang Le. Despite not being the title character, he is the main character of the novel as the reader is most often given his perspective on things. Giang is a fairly peaceful and low-key Vietnamese man who works at a roadside inn. But through his recollections about his past, we find out that he was a prisoner of war during the conflict in his country and that he was imprisoned for ten years by his own government for defecting.
Giang is such a soft-spoken man in his everyday life that the flashbacks to his time as a youth and during the war serve almost as a window into his soul for the reader. Here is a man who has seen so much suffering and so many terrible things but you’d never know it from talking to him.
Alternatively, Mrs. Rossi is a character who tends to speak her mind and be forthright at all times. She tells Giang very quickly after meeting him about her quest to find her soldier son’s remains in the jungle and stays determined throughout most of the novel that she will succeed in her objective.
I thoroughly enjoyed the perspectives of both characters as well as the interspersed chapters where we got the perspective of Mrs. Rossi’s son, Nicola.
I found this book to be a worthwhile and fascinating read and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a well written novel. I promise you’ll enjoy it. I don’t give out a 5 star review very often but this book deserves that plus so much more.