Spotlight, Excerpt, Guest Review & Giveaway: Mrs. Rossi’s Dream by Khanh Ha

Book Blurb & Info

“I live in a coastal town in the deep south of the Mekong Delta. During the war this was IV Corps, which saw many savage fights. Although the battles might have long been forgotten, some places cannot forget.” Thus begins the harrowing yet poignant story of a North Vietnamese communist defector who spends ten years in a far-flung reform prison after the war, and now, in 1987, a free man again, finds work as caretaker at a roadside inn in the U Minh region. One day new guests arrived at the inn: an elderly American woman and her daughter, an eighteen-year-old Vietnamese girl adopted at the age of five from an orphanage in the Mekong Delta before the war ended. Catherine Rossi has come to this region to find the remains of her son, a lieutenant who went missing-in-action during the war. “Mrs. Rossi’s Dream” tells the stories of two men in time parallel: Giang, the 39-year-old war veteran; Nicola Rossi, a deceased lieutenant in the U.S. army, the voice of a spirit. From the haunting ugliness of the Vietnam War, the stories of these two men shout, cry and whisper to us the voices of love and loneliness, barbarity and longing, lived and felt by a multitude of people from all walks of life: the tender adolescent vulnerability of a girl toward a man who, as a drifter and a war-hardened man, draws beautifully in his spare time; the test of love and faith endured by a mother whose dogged patience even baffles the local hired hand who thinks the poor old lady must have gone out of her mind; and whose determination drives her into the spooky forest, rain or shine, until one day she claims she has sensed an otherworldly presence in there with her. In the end she wishes to see, just once, a river the local Vietnamese call “The River of White Water Lilies,” the very river her son saw, now that all her hopes to find his remains die out. Just then something happens. She finds out where he has lain buried for twenty years?and how he was killed.

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Book Excerpt

You had insomnia, Mama, during your pregnancy. You could sleep only after a glass of wine. The insomnia got worse after the stillbirth. You couldn’t sleep at night. The piano you played downstairs would wake Papa in bed. Go to sleep, baby child, Hush-a-bye, don’t you cry. When you wake, you will have, All the pretty little horses.
Papa worried about biochemical imbalances in the brain. The doctors suggested a lamp with a bluish luminosity. Rainy days and wintry weather made Papa fret. Did she have enough light? Would she stay balanced? He grew accustomed to seeing the lamp glowing blue, and still there was too much darkness.
Papa stayed up late in bed one night, reading a CIA briefing. The program waiting for him in South Vietnam nagged at him. He wasn’t a man for myths and abstracts, so he realized the scope of the proposition the agency asked of him. He was to develop a pacification program targeted at the Viet Cong in South Vietnam. The agency gave him time to bring himself up to speed with the fledgling program. Also, he was to learn the language. “If you speak their language,” the director said to Papa, “the Vietnamese will treat you like a family member.”
Papa read until his eyes grew weary. Lying beside him, you needlepointed a stocking. Occasionally you glanced up at the black-and-white TV. Papa finally put the papers back in his attaché and got in between the sheets.
“Can you turn off the light?” he asked.
You clicked the lamp off. Papa turned on his side away from the glare of the TV. You held the stocking in your lap, needles in your hands. Could you finish it by Christmas? This stocking showed a little boy sitting under a white pine with sugarplums hovering in his thoughts. You wanted to leave a memory under the Christmas tree. For the lost child.
Soon Papa began his snoring. Your eyes followed the scenes on the screen, your thoughts returning to what Papa had said about his duty in Nam. How long this time? You cried when he was sent to Nam the first time. But you had managed on your own.
The man kissed the woman on the screen. Back then you would long for him on nights you couldn’t sleep. A woman’s longings opened a new realm of sensuousness. You discovered pleasures you only heard whispered about in girlhood. In those moments you imagined his body.
On the TV screen the woman broke away from the man, lit a cigar for him. The man puffed on his cigar as the match flickered. He gripped both her wrists, steadying her hands, and the match burned down to her fingers. She tried to look calm.
You turned off the TV but still saw the man gripping the woman’s wrists. In the dark the images pricked your imagination. You turned on your back, felt dry in your mouth.
Your body wasn’t ready for bed. It felt warm, though you hadn’t touched a drink this night. You turned to Papa, placed your hand on his hip. His breathing was shallow; his snoring stopped. You ran your hand along the curve of his hip, his thigh. You stopped as Papa woke. He turned toward you. He smelled of fresh linen, eyes confused from half dreams. You touched his chest, unbuttoned his top. He followed your hands with his. You bent over him, your hair covering your face, his hands on your hips. He was still half in his dream, half in you when his desire peeked. You clutched his shoulders, your hair falling over his face. He said, ‘I’m sorry,’ stroking your shoulders. It had ended so soon, so abruptly. Your skin cooled. In Papa’s arms you thought of the man in the movie and finally slept.

Guest Review by Sol A.

“You could hear the planes' roaring noises, the forest crackling from the heat of napalm, the trees sizzling like meat and falling all around like thunder. You could hear men's screams above the mayhem. There was no air, and you felt fire in your lungs and your eyes blurred instantly from the white light of each explosion.”

War is a terrible thing. Countless men, young and old were lost in the Vietnam war fifty years ago and the shock waves of those lives that were lost still impacts people today. “Mrs. Rossi's Dream” by Khanh Ha is a story about one of those people. Well, I shouldn't say “one” as it is about several people who were impacted by the war.

The titular character, Mrs. Rossi, is an elderly woman who travels to Vietnam twenty years after the war ended to find the remains—or at least some sign-- of her dead son, Nicola. Giang Le is a middle-aged Vietnamese man who defected during the war and was imprisoned for ten years after he was caught. The story follows the journey of these two people as well as that of Nicola during the war and Mrs. Rossi's adopted Vietnamese daughter, Chi Lan as they struggle to make sense of the impact that the war had on their lives.

The characters were all so fully realized and fleshed out that I felt as though I was having a real conversation with them as I read along. At times it was like I'd stepped into the book and was having tea or traveling through the dense jungle with them.

I think, quite often as Americans we are conditioned to view the country of Vietnam only through the lens of the war and how many Americans were lost and this book really put into perspective for me how the war affected the Vietnamese who could not escape or chose not to participate in it. What a moving and thrilling novel this turned out to be! Definitely a five star novel!

Author Info

Award winning author, Khanh Ha is the author of Flesh (Black Heron Press) and The Demon Who Peddled Longing (Underground Voices). He is a seven-time Pushcart nominee, a Best Indie Lit New England nominee, twice a finalist of The William Faulkner-Wisdom Creative Writing Award, and the recipient of Sand Hills Prize for Best Fiction, and Greensboro Review's Robert Watson Literary Prize in fiction. The Demon Who Peddled Longing was honored by Shelf Unbound as a Notable Indie Book. Ha graduated from Ohio University with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

Author Links
Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/khanhha

This giveaway is for the choice 3 print copies or ebook copies of the book , 1 copy per each of 3 winners. Print is available to Canada and the U.S. only but ebook is available worldwide. This giveaway ends on May 8, 2019 at midnight pacific time. Entries are accepted via Rafflecopter only.

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Tour Info

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