Monica’s Musings: Daughters of the New Year

Daughters of the New Year by E.M. Tran

“Even after forty-one years here, she wore American citizenship with discomfort, like a pair of shoes half a size too small.”
― E.M. Tran, Daughters of the New Year

Summary: In present day New Orleans, Xuan Trung, former beauty queen turned refugee after the Fall of Saigon, is obsessed with divining her daughters’ fates through their Vietnamese zodiac signs. But Trac, Nhi and Trieu diverge completely from their immigrant parents’ expectations. Successful lawyer Trac hides her sexuality from her family; Nhi competes as the only woman of color on a Bachelor-esque reality TV show; and Trieu, a budding writer, is determined to learn more about her familial and cultural past.

As the three sisters begin to encounter strange glimpses of long-buried secrets from the ancestors they never knew, the story of the Trung women unfurls to reveal the dramatic events that brought them to America. Moving backwards in time, E.M. Tran takes us into the high school classrooms of New Orleans, to Saigon beauty pageants, to twentieth century rubber plantations, traversing a century as the Trungs are both estranged and united by the ghosts of their tumultuous history.

My thoughts: The beginning of the book explores the relationships between Xuan and her three daughters, Trieu, Nhi, and Trac. The history of Xuan is essential to understanding her attitude toward moving to the US and her attitude towards her husband and daughters. I wouldn’t call her a cold mother, but I would definitely consider her emotionally absent with her daughters. Her history of fleeing with her own parents and her unhappy move to the States provided some explanation for that.

The final part of the story delves into the family’s ancestors and how they came to own a rubber plantation during the final years of French colonial rule in Vietnam. The exploration of Xuan and her daughters felt like it was left unfinished before it switched timelines back to the history of the family. I wanted to know so much more about them! Overall I found this story very intriguing and I would recommend it to anyone who likes historical fiction.

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