Flesh by Khanh Ha [in Library Journal]
Flesh, a turn-of-the-20th-century debut novel set mostly in Hanoi, begins and ends with gruesome beheadings. Bearing witness to both executions is Tài, a poor teenage village boy quickly forced into manhood.
In an effort to reclaim his father’s severed head and finance an auspicious burial, Tài spends the next year on an odyssey of discovery about his betrayed bandit father, their troubled family, and his own unsure self. Indentured to a geomancer who sells his contract to a wealthy Chinese merchant, Tài glimpses the backstreet Hanoi life of opium dens, desperate coolies, and the lawless rich … where his first experience of falling in love incites his own vengeful violence.
Verdict: Written in cowboyish twang filled with “yup,” “ain’t,” “em,” “gonna” – possibly meant to simulate the vernacular of the day – the novel never quite loses its anachronistic feel. One more edit might have trimmed some of the meandering passages and extraneous characters, but the fast-paced story pushes briskly to the finish. Readers who enjoy epic sagas set in faraway lands will find absorbing satisfaction here.