Mandarin: A Novel of Vietnam

Written by John Haven
Review by Laura Staley

Born in the late 19th century, Bach is the cherished oldest son of a patrician Vietnamese family. His is a divided world: nobles who have everything live next to starving, abused peasants; his father works covertly to overthrow French rule while his mother nourishes the personal connections with French officials that keep the family safe.

Covering sixty years of Vietnamese history, this interesting book offers much detail on the lives of rich and poor in early 20th-century Vietnam. It has imperfections; for example, to gain vital information Bach once pulls a “despicable trick involving the betrayal of trust” on a old friend, but we are never told what the trick was, even though such a detail would have told us much about Bach and his times. Nevertheless, I would recommend this book to people interested in Vietnam and twentieth-century history.