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"Banyan Moon" | Reviewed by Chris Stuckenschneider

Updated: Jun 28, 2023

Three generations of women narrate “Banyan Moon,” an immersive, heartfelt novel by Thao Thai. The matriarch of the story, Minh, is steeped in the traditions of Vietnam but willing to adapt to new ways in America. Minh is a survivor, sinewy strong, widowed at a young age and determined to leave her homeland, a country at war in the 1960’s. Minh must use her wiles with a powerful man to escape Vietnam with her young daughter Hu’o’ng and little brother in tow.

The family had difficult times in their native land, but must adapt to a culture foreign to them once they reach the States. Minh takes a job as a cleaner, and eventually purchases the rambling Banyan House near the swamplands of Florida’s gulf coast.

Moving backward and forward, from the 1960s to modern time, readers learn about Minh’s past, her romance as a young girl, her marriage, and a secret she keeps from her children, even as they advance into adulthood, a secret kept in a locked box that Hu’o’ng would be shocked to find out about.

As Hu’o’ng matures and has a daughter of her own, Hu’o’ng and Minh’s relationship becomes ever more fractious and complicated. Hu’o’ng resents her mother, believing she had little time for her when Hu’o’ng was growing up, yet she always made space in her life for Hu’o’ng’s daughter Ann, who eventually becomes a successful illustrator in Michigan. There Ann becomes involved with Noah, a pedigree pup from a well-to-do family, their romance resulting in a tumultuous relationship.

Though these women are vastly different, they share a commonality that’s cost them dearly. They have had relationships with men who were flawed and mistreated them in unacceptable ways. More is revealed when Minh passes away and Ann returns home to Florida, her romance on the rocks, to a mother who suffered an incredible tragedy years before, one she had a hand in. Only her deceased mother knows of her dark secret, a shocker that will catch readers off guard.

“The Banyan Moon” expertly reveals the tensions, and see-saw balance the women experience. They are part of “…a tribe of women who are ravaged and joyous, loud, raging, tied to (their) own convoluted histories” like the roots of the Banyan Tree outside their family home.

This debut novel is not to be missed for the complicated relationships it lays bare and for its strong, yet fallible charters. It’s a thoughtful book, beautifully written, and is certain to be popular with book clubs, where it’s sure to prompt invigorating discussions.

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