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Discussion Guide

The Mountains Sing

By Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai

One of the most acclaimed novels of the year, The Mountains Sing tells an enveloping, multigenerational tale of the Trn family, set against the backdrop of the Vit Nam War. Trn Diu Lan, who was born in 1920, was forced to flee her family farm with her six children during the Land Reform as the Communist government rose in the North. Years later in Hà Ni, her young granddaughter, Hương, comes of age as her parents and uncles head off down the H Chí Minh Trail to fight in a conflict that tore not just her beloved country, but her family apart.

Vivid, gripping, and steeped in the language and traditions of Vit Nam, The Mountains Sing brings to life the human costs of this conflict from the point of view of the Vietnamese people themselves, while showing us the true power of kindness and hope. 


Discussion Questions

Use these discussion questions to guide your next book club meeting.

“I realized that whenever humans failed us, it was nature who could help save us,” says Grandma Diệu Lan. What are the symbols of nature that are used in the book? What do you think about the healing ability of nature?

“Was that a baby next to Auntie Hoa? Its head was at least three times the size of its chest. Its forehead bulged out. It had no arms or legs,” Hương describes her cousin. Discuss what you know about Agent Orange, its use during the Việt Nam War and its effects on people.

“Human kindness never ceased to amaze me,” says Grandma. What are some of the acts of kindness revealed in the novel? Do you find any of these acts unbelievable?

A New York Times Editors’ Choice Selection
A Best Book of the Month/Season: The New York Times * The Washington Post * O, The Oprah Magazine * USA TodayReal Simple * Amazon PopSugar * Book Riot * Paperback Paris * She Reads We Are Bookish
A Best New Historical Fiction Novel:  BuzzFeed Books * Goodreads
"[An] absorbing, stirring novel . . . that, in more than one sense, remedies history." —The New York Times Book Review
“A triumph, a novelistic rendition of one of the most difficult times in Vietnamese history . . . Vast in scope and intimate in its telling . . . Moving and riveting.” —VIET THANH NGUYEN, author of The Sympathizer, winner of the Pulitzer Prize

The Mountains Sing affirms the individual's right to think, read, and act according to a code of intuitive civility, borne out of Vietnam's fertile and compassionate cultural heritage." —NPR

“A sweeping story that positions Vietnamese life within the rich and luminous history of national epics like The Tale of Kiu and The Iliad. Expansive in scope and feeling, The Mountains Sing is a feat of hope, an unflinchingly felt inquiry into the past, with the courageous storytelling of the present.”
—Ocean Vuong, author of On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

"A Vietnamese poet conjures history and fate in a luminous tale that resonates across generations as one family grapples with the psychic residue of war."
O, The Oprah Magazine

Author Bio

Born into the Vit Nam War in 1973, Nguyn Phan Quế Mai grew up witnessing the war’s devastation and its aftermath. She worked as a street seller and rice farmer before winning a scholarship to attend university in Australia. 

She is the author of eight books of poetry, fiction and nonfiction in Vietnamese, and her writing has been translated and published in more than ten countries, most recently in Norton’s Inheriting the War anthology. The Mountains Sing is her first in English.

She has been honored with the Hà Ni Writers Association’s Poetry of the Year 2010 Award, the Capital’s Literature & Arts Award, and First Prize - the Poetry Competition About 1,000 Years Hà Ni, among others. Quế Mai has an MA in Creative Writing and is currently a PhD candidate at Lancaster University. She divides her time between Indonesia and Vit Nam. For more information, visit her

This recommended reading and discussion guides are shared and sponsored in partnership with Algonquin.