An auspicious debut by Vietnam-born Khanh Ha.—Paula Tohline Calhoun (from The Scents of Memory)
The book opens with two epigraphs, one from Claude Farrère: "Yes, I am no longer a man, no longer a man at all. But I have not yet become anything else." The second from Mr. Arthur Rimbaud, which in light of the outcome of Mr. Khanh's exquisite book is the perfect introduction, and one to which you will return when you have finished the last page of the book:
"When the world is reduced to a single dark wood for our four eyes' astonishment — a beach for two faithful children, a musical house for one pure sympathy — I shall find you."
I close with two quotations – one from the first line of the chapter, "Moths to the Flame": "I woke to the faint aroma of cinnamon that hung in the air." Other than illuminating Mr. Khanh's use of scents as an integral part of his novel, this particular line would not be significant without the last sentence in the same chapter: "I could smell the river, the damp silty smell still clinging to my skin, and I could smell her."
It is my honor to have been able to review this book by Mr. Khanh Hà, the first book of his that I hope is one of many to come. I cannot encourage you enough to read it, and savor all the morsels, and gather every scent that rise up from every page.
I could never say enough . . .
I'm going to extend my praise for Khanh Ha's Flesh up front and without delay. This book should earn literary distinction among the best literary fiction works for its multi-layered, lavish narrative prose! I hope my children will be reading this book in their college English classes one day. Whether or not, it will have a front and center spot on my shelf and it'll be on my most recommended list.
It's as good as award-winning literary fiction such as The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, Atonement by Ian McEwan, and Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. Such comparisons come because they all deal with social issues, the novel is propelled by characters and not strictly a plot, emotional ties are made by the reader, and they are poignant, original and haunting as far as thinking of humanity. Flesh is also written in first-person narrative, a feat only the best writers can accomplish. I know that's saying quite alot, but Mr. Ha deserves the credit. His writing is moving, caressing, and heart-wrenching.
Dark and descriptive, this is not a book for the faint of heart. The opening chapter about a young boy watching the beheading of his father in all the bloody detail is shocking to say the least, but like a movie we can't stop watching regardless of its gore.... This book just grips us viscerally from those first pages.
Mr. Ha is a clear and clean writer who speaks directly to his reader. I felt much of the time as if I were sitting on a sofa with him looking through his family album while he told me the story of his life. It was a fascinating story in all its different aspects. No page was left unturned....
Exotic, otherworldly, almost fairytale-like (in the oldest sense of that word) in parts, this book tells us the earthly story of good meeting evil or the connection between the spirit and the flesh. So much is earthbound, but so much points to the heavenly that we're drawn to compare it. This is a very spiritual novel.
Outside my box and loved it!!!
Flesh by Khanh Ha is dark and dreamlike . . . 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, Tài 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.—Ageless Pages Reviews
An impressive debut novel, Flesh is beautiful and dark, sad and moving, all at the same time. Capturing the time and characters so well, this is an easy novel to dive into, but hard to digest.
Flesh is a fresh, all-encompassing debut. Ha doesn't shy away from tough topics like betrayal, revenge and deceit, but he isn't afraid to showcase the lighter side of life as well. This is an author that can tug on your heartstrings equally well with sadness or joy. The easy voice, the lovely prose, the vivid characters are all add up to an immersive read that ends in an utterly unexpected manner. From start to finish, Flesh was an utterly compelling and unique read. For anyone looking for a historical fiction novel unlike any other I've read, this is the one I would recommend.
I recall a book about a man trying to get home. . . . Since I read this book I've told many a fellow reader about this literary gem. . . . Again, almost universally, when I saw them soon after they too had nothing but praise for the book, Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier.
Flesh by Khanh Ha is this type of book. At its core, it is a book about a son trying to honor his family by obtaining a proper burial for his father and brother. And for this boy, this becomes his driving raison d'être.
After I finished Flesh, I was left with one word echoing in my head that, for me, describes the book. For me the one word that encapsulates Flesh in its entirety is poignant.
The characters, the setting, the pacing of the plot, the book as a whole, all done in such a poignant fashion that the tale as a whole simply resounds with a voice that is unique and memorable in rare fashion.
Readers of character driven tales, literary and historical fiction, need to prioritize getting this book.
Flesh is not just a great book, it is a masterpiece! The characters spring to life on the very first page and stay with you way after reading the very last page. Both the characters and landscape are unforgettable!
I highly recommend this book for either historical fiction lovers or literary fiction lovers. This literary work deserves a prize!
I wasn't sure what to expect from Khanh Ha's Flesh as I'm not well-versed in the history or culture of Vietnam. I came to it with a blank slate and what I found was a book unlike anything I've ever attempted.
I found Flesh an intensely addictive read. Flesh is a different kind of story, a powerful yet beautifully written, dark, dystopian fiction that I won't soon forget.
A lyrical masterpiece by a debut author. . . . A work that reads like a song, imagery is beautiful in this novel, and will have you picturing this world long after you put the book down.
These beautiful, tragic stories are woven into a lyrically beautiful, vibrantly descriptive book. . . . Khanh Ha is also a master of using descriptive detail to create a mood. This mood often radiates darkness and death, but it sometimes reflects joy.
This novel became one of my favorites largely because of the unique story, fascinating setting, and characters that hooked me and got under my skin. I also savored the lyrical language and vivid, poetic use of imagery.
I highly recommend this to lovers of literary fiction, particularly if you are intrigued by the history of Vietnam.
A lush, poetic tale, Flesh takes readers on a journey far beneath the surface of a land most have only glimpsed superficially in clichéd Hollywood films. . . . Where Khanh Ha excels, and what you will be unable to easily shake, are the deeply evocative descriptions of daily life in Annam. From the hand-to-mouth struggle in the villages to stave off disease and starvation to the enticing sensuality of the city's opium dens, Khanh Ha coaxes Tài's world to life in a vibrantly palpable manner.
A boldly confident coming of age story of a young man psychologically scarred by violence and driven by familial loyalty and societally imposed moral obligations, readers willing to venture off the beaten path to an unfamiliar land will find great pleasure exploring Khanh Ha's Flesh.
Moody and almost dreamlike, Flesh is a luscious read. Khanh Ha does a fantastic job of describing the sights and smells of Tonkin. I'd never eaten the food described or smelled opium before but now I feel that I have. The sensory details made this book come alive for me.
I also enjoyed the bones of the story. It's a coming of age tale in a place and time that I couldn't imagine before now. The love story is gentle, believable and heartbreaking in the best way.
Flesh is a very dark and disturbing story and yet, still, suffused with hope like a sandy shore on the edge of a dank jungle shimmering under a full moon. . . .
The prose often has the cadences and imagery of poetry and shifts between scenes having the surreal quality of dreams and those with fast-paced action. Khanh Ha's meticulous attention to detail in every scene, his dedication to bringing all five of the senses into play is yet another way he engages with the theme and in this way draws the reader in and tethers them by the sinews and fibers of their very flesh. This story grips and won't let go even after the last page is turned.
Flesh is a story of shades and contrasts, languid but intense, darkly detailed and quietly introspective, poverty and cruelty, love and sensuality.
Tai is a compelling narrator and Ha excels with characterisation, even minor characters are fully fleshed out. Both setting and scene are vivid, from jungle to opium den, beheading to small pox epidemic. What was forefront for me was the deep sense of family honour, duty and loyalty guiding Tai's actions.
Khanh Ha's writing is so visceral you aren't just visiting Vietnam, you're immersed in the experience which is both beautiful and confronting.
If you are looking out for names to add to the growing list of skillful Asian writers, look no further than Khanh Ha. His debut novel, Flesh is a somber, brooding and grim exploration of revenge and moral responsibility in turn-of-the-century Annam (present day Vietnam).
Ha's prose is dream-like and poetic. It has a lucid quality that, in its better moments, adds volume and flair to the writing.
I should think that readers of Asian literature, and specifically Asian historical fiction, should take notice of Flesh. Ha has laid a foundation for what could be a very promising career.
Through it all, Flesh proves to be an amazing portrait of another world, one I'd never thought to journey to before. You'll feel yourself transported to Tai's homeland through a series of minor details that prove major when put altogether. You can practically taste the snake blood rice liquor concoction on your tongue—oh yummy day!
In all seriousness, if you enjoy a rhythmic work that brings you right into the lives of the characters and don't mind a story clouded in gloom, Flesh by Khanh Ha is a fantastic read for you.
I took the longest time to read this book. . . . The only reason I forced myself to put down this book after every few chapters is because I did not want it to end! Seriously, it is that good.
I can guarantee you that it will make you think — even days after you have finished reading it. There's certain 'darkness' (for lack of a better word for it . . .) in it that will creep up, get a hold on you and not let go easily.
The best feature of this book is the author's style of writing. . . . There's a certain charm in it that's more at home with what we call 'classics' and hard to come by in modern literature. It is so expressive and touching all the while maintaining its charm.
This book has made a real good impression, one that's going to last a long time.
What the Rapid City Public Library is reading and think you might like to read as well.—Midwest Book Review
History marches on, and there will never be something like that ever again. Flesh is a historical novel set in pre-turn of the twentieth century Vietnam, a Vietnam so very different than the Vietnam known today. A young man is faced with the honest brutality of his world in his first sight. Trying to understand a world filled with such hate and such joys, and how it can twist young minds, Flesh is a strong addition to any literary historical fiction collection, much recommended.—Elohi Gadugi Journal
Stepping into Flesh is a step into Khanh Ha's vision of historical Vietnam. This is an old man's story of his youth and it reads like the truth of memory. . . .
Khanh Ha is tender with his characters, spares nothing, but never judges. . . . Flesh is essentially a love story imbued with urgency and atonement and suffused with a dream-like quality.
Nevertheless, Flesh is a marvelous introduction to this ancient culture, a small open window. To come and stand by this window, to look out on Khanh Ha's landscape, see the river's edge where
". . . sampans and junks and small steam ships dotted the water's edge, and the quay lay trembling in the yellowy light of the lanterns. On the gangplank, the coolies stood naked above the waist. Some sat slumped against the rail and some lay like corpses on top of coiled ropes. . . ."
is to taste something new and wonderous.
I also loved the dynamic between Tai and his mother. . . . They are partners in their shared grief of the cards life has dealt them. The strength showed by Tai's mother is beyond real.
The writing is beautiful and the story itself is loaded with passion and tension and unspoken subtleties. I would definitely recommend if you love historical fiction and a writing style that is rich with description and detail. The author paints a beautiful picture of a not-so-beautiful time that leaves the reader immersed in the setting.
I can still say that Flesh is quite a work of historical fiction.
I've noticed that others have remarked of the dark, dream-like, or moody quality of Ha's writing. What I liked the most was Ha's use of rich historical detail to tell what really is a great story. This is my first foray into Asian literature (long overdue) and I am very pleased. I look forward to future works by Mr. Ha. Definitely give this one a read, dear readers.
The greatest strength of Flesh is its beautiful prose. Ha has a lovely way with words, and his eloquent descriptions help to paint a vivid picture of life in turn of the century Hanoi and its surrounding villages. Tai is a young man who will fascinate readers.
The love story that runs throughout the second half of the novel is beautifully drawn, helping the reader to forget that there is a dark side to Tai's story.
Flesh is recommended to readers who enjoy literary historical fiction, as well as historical fiction set in Asia.
Flesh's beauty and strongest feature is Ha's attention to the sensual nature of his setting. His writing brings the smells and sounds and minute details of Lau and Hanoi to life, whether he's describing the putrid flesh of a decomposing eel used as an ancient weapon against smallpox or the layers of sights and odors found in an expensive opium den.
Reading Flesh is like stepping back in time and settling in as a fly on the wall of Tai's life. Understated emotion and beautifully rendered details make the story a calm read, despite several instances of violence. Readers expecting an action story filled with executions and opium dens should look elsewhere, but Flesh offers a glimpse of Tonkin life that will leave an impression on your memory.
Flesh has been the most intriguing and thought-provoking historical literature I have read in a very long time. . . . I think the one word deceptively simple title is a stroke of genius, and could spur hours of book club or academic discussion equally easily. I'm very excited and will await his second book with much anticipation.
It's not an easy read, but I think it's important, and I believe if you choose to take it on it's a book that you'll want to recommend to many, many people.
Nothing is as great for writer's block as entering the world created by another writer and Ha's book proved this to be truer than ever. He takes us into the life of a boy, Tai, searching to avenge his father. The quest takes us deep into the culture and history of Vietnam.
I was enthralled by the rich character descriptions as well as the details that bring unfamiliar environment to life for the reader and gained renewed enthusiasm for telling my own story set in Southeast Asia. For the reader looking for a cultural read that is delivered through a dramatic character arc.
If you are looking for a book this year for your bookclub, consider Flesh by Khanh Ha.
It is one that I would be willing to read again just to get a new appreciation for it. I can feel there are gems in it that just cannot be obtained in one regular reading session. Again, I suggest this book for a bookclub. There are so many things that could be discussed in this book that you could have this book cover a couple of your meetings.
I loved the poetic way the author writes, I can smell and taste everything he is describing from the country side and the rice fields to the opium dens of the city and I am transported to a different time and space, completely alien to our own time and culture. . . . For me this was like taking a long leisurely walk.
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who loves historical fiction, or adult fiction. Its an excellent choice for a bookclub read.
The author has a way of writing that is just intense. . . . Trials and tribulations plague the main character and are something that I could not imagine overcoming. The author creates a realistic nature throughout the story that is awe-inspiring. And the ending! Oh my goodness . . . If you love vivid descriptions mixed throughout an almost poetic, dark tale, this is the book for you.—Lori Lutes, She Treads Softly
Flesh is a dark, atmospheric historical fiction novel that captures life in Tonkin (northern Vietnam) at the turn of the 20th century. Ha skillfully uses descriptive prose, in some instances it is almost poetic,and many of his descriptions evoke a sensory-filled reaction ― sometimes ominous. The settings he describes can be filled with a sensual richness or evoke a sense of foreboding.
All in all, Flesh is highly recommended and I'll be looking forward to what author Khanh Ha publishes next. I think he is definitely a writer to watch.
In Flesh, Khanh Ha draws the reader into a world of inexorable fates. The flesh referred to in the title is weak, susceptible to passions, fevers, and addictions, and the characters are caught in a version of late 19th-century Tonkin (now part of Vietnam) where the interconnections and interdependencies between people are as secret and complicated as you'd find in any Dickens novel. And so the characters in Flesh struggle—to escape their pasts, their enemies, their circumstances, their fate. What Ha shows us is the meaning in that struggle—meaning that is as relevant now as it was more than a hundred years ago.—Steve Evans, author of "The Marriage of True Minds"
Wonderfully atmospheric depiction of a grim yet strangely romantic life in colonial Vietnam, full of characters as compelling as they are mysterious.—Mary Bearden, Mary's Cup of Tea Blog
This book was really something to read! At first I wasn't too sure about it but the longer I read it, the more interested I became and somewhere along the way, it broke my heart. . . .
The author did not sugarcoat this story one bit! It gave chilling accounts of things that happened back in those times and this poor boy who set out to recover his father's skull so that it could be reunited with the body. He ends up travelling to Hanoi and getting mixed up with a man who will later change his life forever.
He meets a girl and it takes him a while to get her to like him and trust him. There are a lot of opium addicts in this town and a lot of people that will turn on you in a flat second. Things are not what they really seem and it is hard to explain this book to you. It is so unlike anything I have ever read. It truly is a book that must be experienced by for yourself in order for it to make any sense. . . . It blew my mind towards the end and I would love to know what you think!
I found Flesh to be a dark, fascinating read. . . .
Khanh Ha's use of language is quite strong. . . . He's a fine storyteller and creates beautiful images. . . . And his similes can be quite lovely, such as when he compares a late-night food peddler pushing his cart to "a malnourished spirit in the dim light of his lantern." . . .
If you enjoy historical fiction with interesting characters and delightful prose, you might want to check it out.
It is the kind of the book that rests on the border between entertainment and art. . . .
It is so fascinating, in fact, that I wish there were more words in the English language–-or even just wishing I knew more words-–to describe exactly how amazing it is.
If you're looking for a book with a powerful story, a tonne of depth and one that can never be described as "light" reading, then Flesh is definitely the book for you.
The book is full of characters that are fully developed and each one important ― even the dead. . . . The opium dens, the big city, the women all become overwhelming and Khanh Ha has, at times a way with words that is so poetic you almost want to cry.
It doesn't totally detract from the power of the novel, though and Tai's story is one to be read.
And while this story did teach me about life in Vietnam in the early 1900s, so much of it is timeless and the overall story of growing up and falling in love, really is universal. . . .
The book definitely wasn't what I expected, which is a good thing because I loved it so much more than I thought . . . that I would whole-heatedly recommend this one.
I was really gripped by Ha's writing in this book. Tai's story certainly has a lot of gravitas on its own but Ha's writing makes the story really come to life. . . . In a lot of places, the writing is beautiful and almost poetic! The subject matter may not sit well with everyone (some parts of the book are quite brutal and raw) but the writing turns this book into something really special.—The Musings of a Book Junkie
This book is gorgeous and rough all at the same time. Life is rough and Tai is given no breaks. But he holds no grudge or hatred towards life. I loved how he always seems hopeful. The plot of this book is twisted and dark. Betrayal seems almost inevitable and love is hard to come by. But the power of Ha's writing makes for a wonderful book.—Book & Movie Dimension
In Flesh, Khanh Ha writes at his own pace that much is obvious from a delicate realism seen in the novel. He wants you to take your time reading where you will be rewarded into a look into 20th century Vietnam. A Vietnam that wasn't always fantastic but its people lived for what they lived. For a book such as Flesh, you should enjoy its cultural aspect to a higher degree than its actual plot even more so since occasionally things aren't always clear but left up to the reader.
In all seriousness it's an involving book with intuitive characters that will most definitely hold one's interest.
Flesh was a book that I savored. Although I read the bulk of it within a day, it wasn't like my usually reads. With other books I just flip through the pages, never stopping, and finish in a few hours. However with Flesh, I found myself putting the book down and just thinking about the characters, the descriptions, and the history.
What I didn't realize is that Flesh is as much an historical fiction as it is literary fiction. As such, the story focuses on the characters; yes, there is plot but it's not the focus, Tai's story is.
Tai's story, his journey, is interwoven with the actions of his father's past and the saying "an apple doesn't fall far from the tree" is applicable to this story, though, in ways you can't image when you first start reading.
The outstanding element of this novel is the solid invitation extended to readers, to enter this world which Khanh Ha has created in Flesh.
The prose of Khanh Ha's debut is laden with sensory details that pull readers into multi-dimensional scenes.
Readers need not worry if they have little familiarity with the political and geographical setting; Khanh Ha brings the world alive for readers with details that speak to the human experience in Flesh.
Perhaps it is an ugly world. The recurring motif of a headless body — which might be a rooster, a rat, a dog, a father — is haunting.
But if readers believe in Tài's character, they will not look away; he has had to accept these horrors, and still recognizes the wonder and beauty that exist alongside, and readers who are immersed in Flesh will do the same.
Years ago this is the type of book that I am not sure would have peaked my interest. I was pretty set in the types of books that I would read and that is not a good thing. Thankfully that changed and I found a whole new world of books. I can't imagine having missed this one!
To describe the writing and flow of the story is almost impossible, as it is like nothing I have ever read before. You float through the story, stopping off on occasion to be jerked back into a story that will keep you reading into all hours of the night. A fantastic story with a prose like none I've ever read, I would highly recommend it. It has a little bit of everything, and even though it is a dark story of a young man seeking help in finding the traitor who caused the death of his father, I had a soft spot in my heart for many of the characters, and the plight they had to deal with.—Booksie's Blog
Flesh starts with a memorable opening scene. The novel's protagonist, Tai, a young man of sixteen, stands numbed as he watches his bandit father undergo his punishment. He is decapitated by the uncle who raised him but who is the royal executioner. Tai, his mother and little brother, are there to bear witness and to take his father's body away for burial.
Although the events are violent and disturbing, the writing itself is lyrical and haunting. The events seem to unfold in a dream, slowly revealing the stories that make up the intertwined lives of the characters. This book is recommended for readers interested in other cultures, and what family honor will drive men to do.—Ruth Hill, My Devotional Thoughts
The realism of the book certainly made an impression on me. . . . Ha is a master at detailed descriptions to the point that you can see it happening the way the author intended you to. The brutality in the book was descriptive but not to the point that I had to "look away."—Reading Rendezvous Reviewz
Unique. The ending was amazing. . . . He has the writing skills to make the reader imagine every scene he sets, each mood, every setting. The prose felt poetic at times. Author Khanh Ha is truly a talented writer. I enjoyed the novel and it sits on my shelf as a DARN GOOD READ.—Cuzinlogic
Flesh is aptly named where Khanh Ha explores all the desires of the flesh and whether they truly matter in the end.
The story was haunting and the details were so vivid I truly lost myself in the story sometimes, feeling like I was actually there.
There are no heroes in this story, there is only brutal and honest humanity. No sugar coating to be found here. Every character is perfectly flawed and you will find yourself loving and hating each of them at one point or another. . . . It was very captivating.
This historic fictional tale is a sweeping saga of family loyalties, religious and mystical beliefs, and the normal daily struggles of average people in 19th century Vietnam.
Is the desire for revenge enough to define or sustain a life? What happens when a child loses his father at a young age? Does even a common thief deserve forgiveness? Where do our ancestors go after they die, and can they help us to carry out our own individual destinies? Flesh offers readers a chance to explore these questions through a very human tale, sprinkled with ancient customs and superstitions as well as deeply-held religious beliefs both Asian and European.
This is an excellent Halloween selection for its dark themes, haunting spirits and gritty portrayal of life in Northern Vietnam.
Flesh was a refreshingly original story. Set in 20th Century Vietnam, the reader is asked to step outside of their own culture and morality and understand what it means to survive. . . .Ha clearly has a great poetic talent. . . . I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the Far East or South East Asia, specifically Vietnam during this time period. It's a unique story and Ha has a unique and talented voice.—Sweeps4Bloggers
Vietnam at the turn of the 20th Century was not something that was studied in depth in American public schools.
Khanh Ha brings this time period to life in this vivid historical saga. Life was definitely not easy. The setting and whole way of thinking and living is different than today.
The author skillfully tells the story so that it all makes sense in context. I can now understand more of what it would have been like to live in this time period. The saga is a beautiful combination of history, adventure and personal drama.
The writing is excellent. The story is very gripping. Khanh Ha really knows how to grab your heart and not let go. I was very pleased with the author's writing ability as well as the story he told. I would definitely say this is a must read.—My Seryniti
I definitely recommend this book, especially if you enjoy historical fiction but also if you enjoy reading about different cultures. The author did a fascinating job and my favorite of all is the use of his writing. It's nearly lyrical, beautiful and haunting.—Books for YA!
Flesh reminds me a lot of The Cask of Amontillado, with its rich, vivid description and its poetic prose that adds beauty to the story. But other than the brilliant storytelling of Khanh Ha, Tai's character also shines through as he told his coming-of-age story of strife and triumph and overcoming life's challenges.
If you like well-written novel with realistic characters and a heart-wrenching story, Flesh is the one for you.
Flesh brings Vietnam – at around the turn of the last century – to life. Life was hard, and this book does not spare us. The book opens with a scene where our protagonist, Tài, is standing with his mother and baby brother at an execution. It is to be the execution of his father. Ha's powers of description are good, and we are brought into the scene and witness this act.
I would recommend this book. Part of what I (and many of you, I suspect) love about reading is being whisked off to an exotic place for an adventure. And Flesh fills the bill!
As I read Flesh, Khanh Ha's debut novel, it seemed to me that the story is almost dreamlike. A dream in that early hours of a hot morning where you are still in between sleeping and waking up. Your conscious mind taps into your unforgotten but repressed memories which lash out in vicious force with unforgiving storylines. . . . these dreams have a tendency to shape the day or the week with their brutal honesty and, quite honestly, make excellent stories.
The journey throughout the book, whether through light or darkness, is fascinating, violent, and even heartbreaking.
Mr. Ha is a talented writer; he does a wonderful job setting the dark, yet poetic, mood and a fine job describing settings in vivid, smells, colorful imagery. Each chapter reads like a long lost memory, as if Tai was recalling his life in an older age and telling the story to a grandchild or an engaged reader.
Read Flesh to lose yourself in a vividly-described colonial Vietnam, with its poverty and hopelessness, its people's industrious nature at work to better their lives and the lives of those dear to them, all wrapped up in beautiful prose.—Nancy Oakes, The Year in Books
Reading this book is sometimes like flipping through a stack of postcards of old Annam. Ha fills his novel with beautiful surroundings, sights, sounds and even smells, inviting his readers to take a step back to another time and another place. Whether he's talking about the beautiful Annamese countryside, the river's sometimes treacherous waters with the water buffalo grazing along the shores, the narrow alleys of Hanoi or its crowded opium dens, you forget where you are in the present as you're transported back in time. He also hits on things that never seem to change -- the differences between rich and poor, crime, religious differences, love and the desire for revenge.—So Many Books, So Little Time
Khanh Ha is a fantastic writer. His descriptions of the landscape of Vietnam were amazing. He didn't just describe Vietnam, he created it.
I think that Flesh is a rare work of historical fiction that combines a unique tale with beautiful writing.
A sense of melancholy lingers all along the novel. . . .
Khanh Ha's writing could invoke the mystic fragrance of jungle, sense of fear, apprehension, sorrow and dash of happiness. . . . All in all the book is a unique work of historical fiction.
Flesh opens daringly with a beheading. It is Hanoi, 1896, and a young boy watches as his father, a bandit, is executed. Life in the almost-twentieth century Annam (Vietnam today) was ugly, beheadings aside. And that is where author Khanh Ha shines – bringing to the page all those pungent odours, the grisly details of the every day, the revolting traditional 'cures' for smallpox, and the brown, the brown, the brown of village life: "The color of the land must have been dyed into their souls before they were even born. One must blend with the earth, the soil that gives one crops each year." But we soon move onto the dark ugliness of the city of Hanoi, where young Tài is to work for a geomancer in exchange for a 'lucky' burial plot for his father, and where he meets Xiaoli, a Chinese girl who works in an opium den. In Khanh Ha's opium den, where only premium opium is smoked, we get a glimpse of silk canopies, peanut-oil lamps, mother-of-pearl etchings on the wooden beds: "I thought of an ethereal world free of all pain, all worries. I breathed in a dark odor of caramel, and the room came to life with the occasional crackling of pipes."—Joanna Catherine Scott, author of "Indochina's Refugees: Oral Histories from Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam" and "Charlie: a novel of Vietnam"
Set in late-nineteenth-century ancestor-worshipping Annam (later to become Viet Nam), Flesh tells the remarkable story of one boy’s quest to reunite his bandit father’s skull with his bones and bury them together in ‘a lucky hole.’ The horrifying opening scene of his father’s beheading is so realistic it made me feel I was in the crowd, watching. The story continues with a fascinating journey laced with authentic details of a time and place that used to be, a world of geomancers, spirit dancers, river pirates and opium addicts, of simmering resentment toward converted Catholics, ancient cures like the dead eel rotting in a smallpox victim’s bed, a world where magical burial holes bring fortune to the dead one’s children. Author Khanh Ha is particularly good with sounds and smells: from sweat and rain and incense and the smacking of dry lips, to the sounding of the village gong and spicy odor of beetles in the forest. Anyone looking for a gripping adventure story combined with a painless history lesson is going to love this novel.—Simone Zelitch, author of "The Confession of Jack Straw", "Moses in Sinai", and "Louisa"
Good historical fiction allows a reader to enter another time and place. However, Khanh Ha’s Flesh goes further, not only creating a rich portrait of late nineteenth century northern Vietnam, but presenting a hero who is entirely a product of that world, violent and tender. His story is more than a period piece. It is grounded in his own loyalties, his desires, and his slow understanding of the secrets of the human heart. I was particularly impressed by the voice of the narrator—and he really was a hero—and the way we learned about life then without being told, just by inhabiting his consciousness. The vivid descriptions of things, like the door in that courtyard that keeps appearing, keep coming back to me. I also loved that yellow monkey! But really, none of it could be real to me unless it was tied to that narrator.—Publishers Weekly
Vietnam-born Ha’s beautifully described [. . .] first novel, set in his native country at the turn of the 20th century, opens with an infamous yet respected bandit being beheaded in front of his wife and their two young sons. This beginning casts a pall over the tale as Tài, the eldest son, embarks on a far-reaching journey to retrieve his father’s skull, find a suitable burial site, and seek revenge on the man who betrayed his father’s trust. Through a series of twists and turns [. . .] Tài trades two years’ service to a wealthy entrepreneur for land on which to bury the father’s remains. During that time, Tài loses his heart to Xiaoli, an indentured servant working in an opium den, and will do anything—including holding off on vengeance and killing a French soldier—to protect her. In this dark, violent, and poetic saga, with disjointed cinematic vignettes that make it often read like a screenplay, characters are not who they seem. While this makes for a thrilling finale, what lingers [. . .] is Ha’s descriptive prose.—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. Readers who enjoy epic sagas set in faraway lands will find absorbing satisfaction here.