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The Secret of Hoa Sen

PRAISE FOR THE SECRET OF HOA SEN

“In this once-vital place, where red gạo blossoms rim bomb craters, there is an undeniable destruction to be discovered, to be acknowledged between generations. Nguyen Phan Que Mai explores this history of violence with great sensitivity in The Secret of Hoa Sen, a collection of 52 poems that affirms her place as one of Vietnam’s foremost contemporary poets.” —Los Angeles Review of Books. Read more

"Nguyen’s poetic attention is diverse and wide in scope, but never far from her country and family... Reading this collection by Nguyen, one cannot help but feel that each poem is written into the Vietnamese landscape of the poet’s imagination. Not carved, but delicately inscribed; so as to preserve the beauty of a country whose wounds must not define it." —Poetry International Review. Read more

“Que Mai is among the most exciting writers to emerge in post-war Vietnam. These insightful poems, published in both English and Vietnamese, build new bridges between two cultures bound together by war and destruction. The Secret of Hoa Sen, Que Mai's first full-length US publication, shines with craft, art and deeply felt humanity.” Việt Nam News. Read more

“[The Secret of Hoa Sen] is centered on the sad stories of women in the central Vietnamese province of Quang Tri—which is considered the ‘pocket’ of explosive remnants left over from the U.S. war in Vietnam—who lost their husbands and children. [The Secret of Hoa Sen] also honors the bravery and resilience of Vietnamese people who fought for peace as well as rebuilt the country after the war.” Tuổi Trẻ News. Read more

"Que Mai, a translator, poet, and winner of the Poetry of the Year Award from the Hanoi Writers Association (for 2010’s Freeing Myself), collaborated with poet and translator Weigl for this collection focused on the lingering physical and psychological effects of the Vietnam War. These straightforward, personal poems lament and celebrate with the landscape—the smells, colors, and people of her country—that is their touchstone . . .  Mai writes with a nostalgic yet detail-oriented eye.” Publishers Weekly. Read more

"Nguyen Phan Que Mai’s poetry collection is firmly rooted in the Vietnamese tradition, though her poems—or, rather, full-blown songs—also travel to Bhutan, Bangladesh, and other locales. The Secret of Hoa Sen is a collection about the earth-born: family, feeding, sustenance, and how these are intimately connected to the earth. This is what makes the poems stand out from the recent trend in writing about the urban familial settings, but this is not to say that the poems are limited to pastoral settings. Nguyen’s co-translator Bruce Weigl rightly describes the collection in the introduction as 'a global poetry, necessary for our troubled times.' ... Ms. Nguyen’s voice is simple, but full of compassion, and there is both the quality of the earth and the wind in her poetry, an embracing lushness." —Asymptote. Read more

"The author writes eloquently about family, femaleness and the sensual beauty of her country. When she writes of place, I feel that I am walking past the rice shoots in a long ago world." —Omaha World-Herald. Read more

"This poet, in her earthy tenderness and vivid imagery, conveys the experience of women who work the earth with their hands, and who know the deep emotional suffering of war: pregnant women who survive bombings, or women who call out for their dead children or husbands. Through the rendering of these lyrical narratives and through a careful reconstruction of her own lineage, Nguyen Phan Que Mai creates a portrait of woman that is both fractured and resilient. Perhaps through her unrelenting lullabies she finally sings the ancestors to sleep." Poetry Magazine. Read more.

"Poetry is an effective and beautiful way to deal with the horrific aspects of war that have marked all of us. Those who have been avoiding Vietnam War poetry should try this book (the Secret of Hoa Sen). You might find it surprisingly affecting. --Vietnam Veterans of America. Read more

“The translating team of Weigl and Nguyen has pro­duced a volume that embodies the tension between the United States and Vietnam, while maintaining sympathy for both sides of the conflict . . . Happily, The Secret of Hoa Sen includes English and Viet­namese versions of the poems and the presence of both reinforces the collection’s recurring theme— that of two cultures pressed against each other . . . Like a lullaby, The Secret of Hoa Sen acknowledges our collective pain by looking at it head on. Nguyen does not sooth over old wounds, but she does break down the painfulness of the past by suggesting the journey back can offer a chance at redemption.” Pleiades Book Review

“Born in 1973 in Vietnam’s north but raised in the south’s lush delta, award-winning poet Nguyen writes precise, vibrant poems that give voice to her country’s present, grounded in tradition and dark history. Guavas and mangos sometimes blossom here, but Nguyen is just as inclined to speak without overwhelming polemic of the ‘collapsed royal dynasties’ of Vietnam and ‘the blood of its division bitter in our mouths.’ One poem, dedicated to BW—presumably poet/translator Weigl, a Pulitzer Prize finalist and Vietnam veteran—states bluntly, ‘He can’t explain the reasons for the war.’ Important, especially to those still contemplating that question.”
—Library Journal

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