Flesh by Khanh Ha
The setting is Tonkin (northern Vietnam) at the turn of the 20th century. A boy, Tai, witnesses the beheading of his father, a notorious bandit, and sets out to recover his head and then to find the man who betrayed his father to the authorities. On this quest, Tai’s entire world will shift. FLESH takes the reader into dark and delightful places in the human condition, places where allies are not always your friends, true love hurts, and your worst enemy may bring you the most comfort. In that emotionally harrowing world, Tai must learn to deal with new responsibilities in his life while at the same time acknowledging his bond, and his resemblance, to a man he barely knew–his father. Through this story of revenge is woven another story, one of love, but love purchased with the blood of murders Tai commits. A coming-of-age story, but also a love story, the sensuality of the author’s writing style belies the sometimes brutal world he depicts. (publisher)
The book starts with a boy watching his father’s execution with his mother and brother. After the brother dies of smallpox, Tai goes to work trying to collect the money for their graves. His journey takes him through the forest of Vietnam to the opium dens of China.
I’ve barely read anything about Vietnam so I didn’t know what to expect. Tai didn’t have an easy life and wasn’t above using violence to survive when there was reason for it. It was a brutal world but he manages to find happiness in midst of it all. It’s a dark book that starts with a beheading that is quite detailed. As a contrast to all the violence there was love story too and I was glad Tai found some love and happiness in his life.
I loved the writing but it’s also very detailed and Tai explained what he saw and experienced and it slowed the book down a bit and I did some minor skipping with the longer descriptions.
Published: Black Heron (2012)
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours