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Book Review: Flesh by Khanh Ha

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Flesh by Khanh Ha is a novel taking place in Vietnam and China. It is a coming of age story in a dark time of a young man’s life.

Life in Annam (Vietnam) is hard and ugly. A boy named Tai witnesses the beheading of his father, a known bandit, and swears to bring back his skull to be buried with his body. On his quest, Tai becomes an indentured servant, get involved in the opium trade, meets a girl, and learn more and more about the father he hardly knew.

As I read Flesh, Khanh Ha’s debut novel, it seemed to me that the story is almost dreamlike. A dream in that early hours of a hot morning where you are still in between sleeping and waking up. Your conscious mind taps into your unforgotten but repressed memories which lash out in vicious force with unforgiving storylines. While not always bad, these dreams have a tendency to shape the day or the week with their brutal honesty and, quite honestly, make excellent stories.

The novel starts with a beheading and ends with a beheading, both of them witnessed by the teenage Tai, who is thrust into manhood after his father is executed (beheading #1 – this is not a spoiler, it happens on the first few pages). In accordance with his beliefs, Tai goes on a quest to reunite his father’s skull with the rest of his body and hence to bring him peace.

Much of Flesh takes place in 20th Century Vietnam, where life is harsh and people do what it takes to survive. The journey throughout the book, whether through light or darkness, is fascinating, violent, and even heartbreaking. I do think that the book could have been a bit tighter, but that did not distract me from the adventure.

Mr. Ha is a talented writer; he does a wonderful job setting the dark, yet poetic, mood and a fine job describing settings in vivid, smells, colorful imagery. Each chapter reads like a long lost memory, as if Tai was recalling his life in an older age and telling the story to a grandchild or an engaged reader.

  • 368 pages
  • Publisher: Black Heron Press (June 15, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0930773888

Buy this book in paper format.

 

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