“Each of us is always fighting a war.”
Daughters of the New Year is a captivatingly rich debut novel from E.M. Tran, about generations of Vietnamese women and the shared history that both unites them and drives wedges between them.
The novel starts in modern day New Orleans, working its way backwards and detailing the lives of several Trung women all the way to Lady Trieu in 226 AD and the Trung sisters’ rebellion in 40 AD. But the four women we start with may seem a far cry from these powerful warriors.
Xuan and her daughters Trac, Nhi, and Trieu are immigrants from Vietnam to America, and Tran hones in on this experience. For Xuan’s daughters especially, this manifests in a confusing “in between” nationality, a war with both American prejudices and Vietnamese cultural heritage, a divide between parent and child, and the shame that festers from all of this.
Tran is no stranger to this experience. She frankly and vulnerably details in her author’s note her own shame for not knowing much of her family history, and for “participating in the erasure of [her] own family.” She uses her own mother’s pageant trophy as inspiration for the novel, as a way to embrace her heritage.
In the novel, it’s a possession of Xuan’s which serves as a connection for the Vietnamese American family back to Vietnam (even if, as we learn in the first chapter, the trophy itself doesn’t actually come from Saigon). I think it represents Vietnam to the Trung family–all memories to Xuan and mostly mysteries to her daughters. Still, it’s a tie to Xuan’s upbringing in Vietnam. And there are still other ties to the generations of other women in their family, which Tran imaginatively pieces together.
Even while juggling so many pieces, Tran has an incredible talent to completely immerse us in each woman’s life. The multiple perspectives can, at times, be difficult to follow.
I sometimes felt like I was being wrenched away from a character I was just getting to know. But diving back in was always so easy, because there isn’t a single character in Daughters of the New Year who isn’t two-dimensional, with her own distinct and compelling voice. Each contributes to a complex tapestry of an incredible and moving generational saga.
Our thanks to Netgalley and Hanover Square Press for the advanced reader’s copy! Daughters of the New Year will be published on October 11th 2022. You can pre-order the novel here!