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  • Writer's pictureThe Fiction Fox

Review: Banyan Moon - Thao Thai

Genre: Literary Fiction

Published: Quercus Books, June 2023

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

“I come from a tribe of women who are ravaged and joyous, loud, raging, tied to our own convoluted histories. We are a knot of branches, mud-speckled and ever-searching.”

When it comes to literary fiction, multi-generational family-saga’s focusing on mother-daughter relationships are like catnip to me. So when I was offered the change to review an early copy of Thao Thai’s debut novel covering just those themes, I jumped at the opportunity. I was not disappointed.

With remarkable skill, Thai relays a story of generational grief, motherhood and the Vietnamese immigrant experience, as a mother and daughter collide following the death of their family matriarch.

We follow three generations of the Tran-women; Ann, who seemingly lives the American-dream life as a successful illustrator in Michigan, her estrange mother Huong, and matriarch Ming who’s always acted as a mediator in the tense relationship of the former two. When Ann’s life is shaken up by the surprise of a positive pregnancy-test, followed closely by the contrasting news that her grandmother Ming has passed away, she returns to their ancestral home (the titular Banyan House) to meet up with her estrange mother, and get their affairs in order. Under the same roof for the first time in years, mother and daughter must face the simmering questions of their past and their uncertain futures, while trying to rebuild their relationship without the one person who’s always held them together.

From the very first chapter, the novel shines in setting up three strong and well-rounded protagonists; interesting and engaging on their own, but even more so when pitted against each other in their complex dynamics. Within the opening chapter, the tension between these women is already palpable, as we’re introduced to them through a flashback of the three of them on a beach-stroll in 1998. Already; misunderstandings, resentment, expectations and unspoken traumas have their relationship on thin ice at that time. Years later, we see how these cracks have formed into caverns, dividing the family and creating patterns that prove difficult to break.

Like with any of my favourite generational tales, the lives of these women neatly slot into each-other like a series of matryoshka dolls; each unique, but echoing of each-other into a repeating cycle. Their developed characters and individual humanity makes their dynamics relatable and understandable to the reader, regardless of your own family-experiences.

All of this is strengthened and supported by the immersive setting of their gothic-, historical mansion; a home that (literally) carries their family legacy within its walls. Without any supernatural elements involved, there is a sense of haunting within these walls; not a ghostly one, but one of history and lived experiences that left a mark. In such, I also love the thematic implications of the novels name. Banyan trees, also known as strangler-figs, grow on top of other trees and send their roots down through cracks and branches, just like the memories and experiences of these women do to the generations that follow them. It’s a metaphor that’s slightly on the nose, but easily forgiven as it works in context.

Thematically, Banyan Moon reminded me somewhat of Ocean Vuongs debut novel On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous. Although Thai’s prose doesn’t reach the lyricism of Vuongs poetic background, both present a beautiful atmospheric tale of motherhood and multiple generations of Vietnamese-American immigration. If you loved one, I highly recommend the other.

Many thanks to Quercus Books for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

You can find this book here on Goodreads.


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