Sunday, June 17, 2012

Review: "Flesh" by Khanh Ha

I was excited to read "Flesh," by Khanh Ha because I am a huge fan of historical fiction, and this particular book was set in Vietnam - a first for me! I adore Vietnamese food and can see the French influences in the cuisine. But, to be honest with you, I have always been a bit murky about what was happening in that part of the world before the U.S. involvement.

I was looking for this book to fill in some of the blanks for me - and it did not disappoint in that regard. "Flesh" brings Vietnam - at around the turn of the last century - to life. Life was hard, and this book does not spare us. The book opens with a scene where our protagonist, Tai, is standing with his mother and baby brother at an execution. It is to be the execution of his father. Ha's powers of description are good, and we are brought into the scene and witness this act.

The execution is in the first pages of the book for a reason. The book starts there because the execution is the catalyst for nearly everything that happens in the rest of the book.

I am getting into spoiler territory at this point, but the execution generates the need for an acceptable burial spot. The Annamese - people of An Nam (See another post I did about this book, and specifically geo-political boundaries. It is pretty interesting, and includes a map of the old place names.) - believed that certain conditions had to exist at a burial location in order to facilitate a good after-life for the deceased.

This need sets Tai's quest into motion. Tai also has a mission to find the man who betrayed his father. This is not discussed much early in the book, although there is some foreshadowing in a few conversations.

The quests play themselves out, and there are plot in particular that I think you will find interesting.

So, the big question - did I like the book? I liked it. I think that the characters were very believable. I enjoyed the descriptions of a very different time and place. I think my only criticism would be a certain choppiness where we would start off in a new direction or on a tangent and I would be confused for a minute until I re-gained my bearings.

But, overall, I would recommend this book. Part of what I (and many of you, I suspect) love about reading is being whisked off to an exotic place for an adventure. And 'Flesh' fills the bill!

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