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The Demon Who Peddled Longing by Khanh Ha

Source: Virtual Author Book Tours
Paperback, 291 pgs
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The Demon Who Peddled Longing by Khanh Ha is set in post-war Vietnam when a country is still plagued by Khmer Rouge pirates, thefts, rapes, and other devastation.  Nam is a 19-year-old young man striving to avenge the death of his cousin after she is found naked, raped, and killed in the canals of his town after disappearing one evening.  His life was once simple, and this loss, along with the loss of his uncle shortly afterward, has left a deep emptiness in him.  Adrift in the Plain of Reeds, Nam is stumbled upon by an eccentric woman who lives on her own, and he agrees to help her and earn money as he plans out his next steps in the search for his cousin’s killer.

“He felt a fever coming on while he stood in the doorway looking down at the boat.  The water-covered plain reddened as the sun went down, water and sky for one brief moment reflecting each other in a flaming red; and looking across the shimmering water he could see nothing in sight but clumps of tall bushwillows and beyond them dark rain clouds rolling in from the horizon, gigantic billowing black shapes quickly filling up the sky, and distant roars of thunder reverberating over the horizon, seemingly coming from deep in the earth like drumrolls.”  (page 17 ARC)

Nam’s journey from northern Vietnam to the south is fraught with danger as he runs into kind people who are twisted by longing for a better life and whose lives are darkened by loss and oppression.  His presence in their lives helps to shed light in the darkness, but it also further raises tensions in already tenuous situations.  From helping a local family haul in fish and earn money, Nam is always on the lookout for her cousin’s killers.  In many ways, however, Nam’s journey is serendipitous when he uncovers the truth of his cousin’s death.  Along the way, he becomes a man and is free to take his life in any direction he chooses. The novel is very atmospheric and heavy at times, but readers can get lost in Nam’s journey of self-discovery.

The Demon Who Peddled Longing by Khanh Ha is about the darkness that can hover over our lives, and how we each can choose to bow to that pressure or stand up to it.  Part quest and part fable, Ha has created a rich journey through the towns, canals, and fishing hamlets of post-war Vietnam that are struggling to find their way in a world that was once and in many ways still is in turmoil.  Personal demons to actual struggles with evil outside of ourselves can mark our journeys, but they do not have to define who we are.

About the Author:

Khanh Ha was born in Hue, the former capital of Vietnam. During his teen years he began writing short stories which won him several awards in the Vietnamese adolescent magazines. He graduated from Ohio University with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism. Flesh is his first novel. He is at work on a new novel.  Visit the author at his website.  Check out his interview.

Other works reviewed:

Interview with Khanh Ha, author of The Demon Who Peddled Longing

You might remember my review of Khanh Ha’s Flesh in 2012.  Ha’s prose is highly stylistic and transports readers into a dark world full of mythology, and I called Flesh a “stunning debut.”

He’s got a second novel coming out called The Demon Who Peddled Longing, which is likely to look at the dark side of humanity as well, and I’ll be reviewing that in December.

Today, I’ve got an interview treat for you.  Khanh Ha has agreed to answer some questions about his writing and his books.

Please give him a warm welcome.

What myths/legends of the Vietnamese culture appeal to you most and which do make you apprehensive?

As a child growing up in Vietnam, I had an indelible belief in animism. An unseen presence dwelling in an odd-looking rock by the roadside where people placed a bowl of rice grains and a stick of incense long gone cold. Those anthropomorphic images sown in a child’s mind began with the legendary origin of Vietnam when a teacher read a textbook story to the class: “The Dragon and the Immortal,” or Tiên Rồng, from whom the Vietnamese claim their lineage.

As a child, I lived in Huế, the former ancient capital of Vietnam, living in its mysterious atmosphere, half real, half magic. I used to walk home under the shade of the Indian almond trees, the poon trees. At the base of these ancient trees I would pass a shrine. If I went with my grandmother, she would push my head down. “Don’t stare at it,” grandmother said. “That’s disrespect to the genies.” Yet the one practice I deem mindless is the spirit medium-ship when a trance-induced medium lets herself be possessed by a spirit who claims himself a demigod, a deity, a medieval lord marshal; and the audience then make offerings to such spirit, asking for blessings, for their fortune foretold.

Your novels, Flesh and The Demon Who Peddled Longing, bring forth the darker sides of the humanity. What about those desires and dark secrets fascinates you as a writer?

I write dark fiction because of the dystopian world around me. But I want to come out of it alive and atoned for. My main character is like that. He is impetuous, single-minded and yet tender-hearted and loyal.

He hides his dark secrets of the love he has for his cousin, of his longing for the untouchable girl who is married to the overlord triple her age and sexually impotent. Writers are those who know how to fictionalize their dark secrets and desires, and allow readers to experience them secondhand.

If you were to offer one seed of advice to novice writers looking to get published, what would it be?

Find your own writerly voice! When you do, write as the only writer that exists, none before you, none after you. But write something, even if it’s just a suicide note. Somewhere I remember Toni Morrison once said, “I wrote my first novel because I wanted to read it.”

What was the best piece of advice you ever received as a writer?

None. Like every self-made man, I worship my creator. Because I taught myself how to write, I found it dreadful to sit and listen to someone trying to teach techniques in fiction writing. I always consider writing a private business, like lovemaking—you don’t learn how to do it, do you?

Do you read poetry?  Why or why not?  And if you do, who are some of your favorite poets or some of your favorite poems?

I love poetry. It’s the cadence and imagery in poetry that live in me when I write. I must have them to induce moods. I love poetry that’s down-to-earth, simple and sincere, crisp and elegant. For that, I love Charles Bukowski’s You Get So Alone at Times That it Just Makes Sense, and Maya Angelou’s Passing Time, which was used as the epigraph of my novel The Demon Who Peddled Longing.

Thank you, Khahn Ha, for answering my questions.  I look forward to reading your next novel.

Mailbox Monday #289

Mailbox Monday, created by Marcia at To Be Continued, formerly The Printed Page, has a permanent home at its own blog.

To check out what everyone has received over the last week, visit the blog and check out the links.  Leave yours too.

Also, each week, Leslie, Vicki, and I will share the Books that Caught Our Eye from everyone’s weekly links.

Here’s what I received:

1.  The Demon Who Peddled Longing by Khanh Ha for review in November with Virtual Author Book Tours.

Set in post-war Vietnam, The Demon Who Peddled Longing tells the terrible journey of a nineteen-year-old boy in search of the two brothers who are drifters and who raped and killed his cousin also his girl. It brings
together the damned, the unfit, the brave, who succumb by their own doing to the call of fate. Yet their desire to survive and to face life again never dies, so that when someone like the boy who is psychologically damaged by his family tragedy, who no sooner gets his life together after being rescued by a fisherwoman than falls in love with an untouchable girl and finds his life in peril, takes his leave in the end, there is nothing left but a longing in the heart that goes with him.

What did you receive?

Flesh by Khanh Ha

Flesh by Khanh Ha is dark and dreamlike.  Tai’s coming of age story is fraught with trauma and hardship, but he maintains his determination and remains grounded despite the beheading of his father at the hands of his granduncle in Northern Vietnam.  Ha has woven a dark love story within Tai’s trip through adolescence that takes him to Hanoi and other places as he searches for the man who turned in his bandit father to the authorities.  Part dark adventure, Tai is thrown into the world of Vietnam’s opium dens and indentured servitude as his mother barters him away to pay for a safe, final resting place for his father and younger brother.

“He could not tell which one was my father’s as he passed under the banyan tree.  Those were the same heads he saw in the rattan baskets, but now they had no eyes, only black sockets with grubs crawling in them.  He spotted a hole bored under each jaw, and a rod was pierced through it to the top of the skull and into a limb.  The heads looked out in different directions, and in the early morning light they bore a pinched look neither of hurt nor sorrow.”  (page 18)

Each chapter reads like a short story, a memory recalled by Tai about his journey and the impact is at once immediate and lasting.  Readers are piggybacking on Tai’s shoulders as he runs through the jungles of Tonkin and the streets of Hanoi as the dark, mysterious Frenchman chases him and he bumps into Xiaoli, a young Chinese girl working in an opium den.  Ha’s prose is poetic as it paints the scene in which you can smell the opium, see and hear the brown of Tai’s village and the busy streets of Hanoi, and feel the delirium of smallpox or his pulse quicken as he begins to fall in love.

“The bank was steep.  I was a salamander, half naked, creeping on the clay soil, seizing knotty vines that bulged across the incline.  The dark odor of sundered organics.  Lying flat on the ridge of the bank, I felt unusually warm, and then a suffocating heat hazed my eyes.”  (page 42)

Tai’s journey is through darkness and fear, and Ha raises questions of nurture vs. nature — whether we are only who we are because of who our parents were or the circumstances in which we were raised.  From the atmosphere to the myths and legends, Ha generates a novel that will capture readers from the beginning, but there are times when the dialogue is a bit trite and wooden.  However, as there is little dialogue per se and that dialogue is often between characters that know little of the other’s language, it can be forgiven.

Flesh by Khanh Ha is a stunning debut novel that showcases the writer’s ability to become a young male narrator whose view of the world has been tainted by his life circumstances and tragedy, but who has the wherewithal to overcome and become a better man.  Through a number of twists and turns, Tai must come to terms with the loss of his father, his obligations as the remaining male member of his family to care for his mother, and the secrets that his culture and family hide.

 

About the Author:

Khanh Ha was born in Hue, the former capital of Vietnam. During his teen years he began writing short stories which won him several awards in the Vietnamese adolescent magazines. He graduated from Ohio University with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism. Flesh is his first novel. He is at work on a new novel.

Visit the author at his website.

 

Click for Tour Stops

This is my 46th book for the 2012 New Authors Challenge.

Mailbox Monday #179

Mailbox Mondays (click the icon to check out the new blog) has gone on tour since Marcia at A Girl and Her Books, formerly The Printed Page passed the torch. This month’s host is Alternative Read.

The meme allows bloggers to share what books they receive in the mail or through other means over the past week.

Just be warned that these posts can increase your TBR piles and wish lists.

Here’s what I received since vacation the previous couple of weeks:

1. Porch Lights by Dorothea Benton Frank, unsolicited from William Morrow and I will find a new home for.

When Jimmy McMullen, a fireman with the NYFD, is killed in the line of duty, his wife, Jackie, and ten-year-old son, Charlie, are devastated. Charlie idolized his dad, and now the outgoing, curious boy has become quiet and reserved. Trusting in the healing power of family, Jackie decides to return to her childhood home on Sullivans Island.

Crossing the bridge from the mainland, Jackie and Charlie enter a world full of wonder and magic—lush green and chocolate grasslands and dazzling red, orange, and magenta evening skies; the heady pungency of Lowcountry Pluff mud and fresh seafood on the grill; bare toes snuggled in warm sand and palmetto fronds swaying in gentle ocean winds.

2.  Pride & Pyramids: Mr. Darcy in Egypt by Amanda Grange and Jacqueline Webb from Sourcebooks for review in July.

The Darcys get pulled into the Regency craze for Egypt in this romantic and adventurous Pride and Prejudice continuation by bestselling author Amanda Grange and Egyptology expert Jacqueline Webb.

When Elizabeth, Darcy and their lively children go to Egypt with Colonel Fitzwilliam’s younger brother, romantic interludes between Darcy and Elizabeth intertwine with the unraveling of a mystery dating back to an ancient Egyptian woman. They find long-hidden treasure, thwart a theft and betrayal by the ever villainous George Wickham, and lay to rest an ancient ghost.

3.  Ocean Beach by Wendy Wax from the publisher and Joan Schulhafer Publicity for review in June.

If you want to win a copy of your own, today is the last day to enter Wendy Wax’s giveaway for one of three advance reader copies of her upcoming OCEAN BEACH, to be sent to the winners prior to the June 26th on sale date. Best of luck to all!! Just go to http://www.writerspace.com/contests/ and scroll down to Wendy’s name!

Unlikely friends Madeline, Avery and Nicole have hit some speed bumps in their lives, but when they arrive in Miami’s South Beach neighborhood, they are all hoping for a do-over. Literally. They’ve been hired to bring a once-grand historic house back to its former glory on a new television show called Do-Over. If they can just get this show off the ground, Nikki would get back on her feet financially, Avery could restart her ruined career, and Maddie would have a shot at keeping her family together.

At least, that’s the plan – until the women realize that having their work broadcast is one thing, having their personal lives play out on TV is another thing entirely. Soon they are struggling to hold themselves, and the project, together. With a decades-old mystery—and the hurricane season—looming, the women are forced to figure out just how they’ll weather life’s storms…

4.  The Color of Tea by Hannah Tunnicliffe from TLC Book Tours in August.

Macau: the bulbous nose of China, a peninsula and two islands strung together like a three-bead necklace. It was time to find a life for myself. To make something out of nothing. The end of hope and the beginning of it too.

After moving with her husband to the tiny, bustling island of Macau, Grace Miller finds herself a stranger in a foreign land—a lone redhead towering above the crowd on the busy Chinese streets. As she is forced to confront the devastating news of her infertility, Grace’s marriage is fraying and her dreams of family have been shattered. She resolves to do something bold, something her impetuous mother would do, and she turns to what she loves: baking and the pleasure of afternoon tea.

Grace opens a café where she serves tea, coffee, and macarons—the delectable, delicate French cookies colored like precious stones—to the women of Macau. There, among fellow expatriates and locals alike, Grace carves out a new definition of home and family. But when her marriage reaches a crisis, secrets Grace thought she had buried long ago rise to the surface. Grace realizes it’s now or never to lay old ghosts to rest and to begin to trust herself. With each mug of coffee brewed, each cup of tea steeped and macaron baked, Grace comes to learn that strength can be gleaned from the unlikeliest of places.

5. Guilty Wives by James Patterson and David Ellis, which my mom lent to me after visiting her with “Wiggles.”

Only minutes after Abbie Elliot and her three best friends step off of a private helicopter, they enter the most luxurious, sumptuous, sensually pampering hotel they have ever been to. Their lavish presidential suite overlooks Monte Carlo, and they surrender: to the sun and pool, to the sashimi and sake, to the Bruno Paillard champagne. For four days they’re free to live someone else’s life. As the weekend moves into pulsating discos, high-stakes casinos, and beyond, Abbie is transported to the greatest pleasure and release she has ever known.

6. Private Games by James Patterson and Mark Sullivan, which my mom lent to me after visiting her with “Wiggles.”

Private, the world’s most renowned investigation firm, has been commissioned to provide security for the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Its agents are the smartest, fastest, and most technologically advanced in the world, and 400 of them have been transferred to London to protect more than 10,000 competitors who represent more than 200 countries.

7. Private #1 Suspect by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro, which my mom lent to me after visiting her with “Wiggles.”

Since former Marine Jack Morgan started Private, it has become the world’s most effective investigation firm–sought out by the famous and the powerful to discreetly handle their most intimate problems. Private’s investigators are the smartest, the fastest, and the most technologically advanced in the world–and they always uncover the truth.

8. Flesh by Khanh Ha, which I received from TLC for a book tour in June.

The setting is Tonkin (northern Vietnam) at the turn of the 20th century. A boy, Tai, witnesses the beheading of his father, a notorious bandit, and sets out to recover his head and then to find the man who betrayed his father to the authorities. On this quest, Tai’s entire world will shift. FLESH takes the reader into dark and delightful places in the human condition, places where allies are not always your friends, true love hurts, and your worst enemy may bring you the most comfort. In that emotionally harrowing world, Tai must learn to deal with new responsibilities in his life while at the same time acknowledge his bond, and his resemblance, to a man he barely knew-his father. Through this story of revenge is woven a another story, one of love, but love purchased with the blood of murders Tai commits. A coming-of-age story, but also a love story, the sensuality of the author’s writing style belies the sometimes brutal world he depicts.

What did you receive?