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.
I took the longest time to read this book. While I finish a book in a day or two at the most, I read this one over a period of a week. No, not because it was boring, not because it was dragging and certainly not because it was easy to put down. The only reason I forced myself to put down this book after every few chapters is because I did not want it to end! Seriously, it is that good.
The story is that of and narrated by a teenage Vietnamese boy, Tai. Even though he did not share a particularly close relationship with his father, witnessing the beheading of his father makes a great impression on him. He decides to reunite his father’s head with the rest of the body. With that decision, Tai’s life takes a turn that changes him and his life completely. Revenge, redemption, peace and love – these become an integral part of his life – his driving force. What happens when Tai meets a geomancer and leaves his village behind to go work for that man, is for you to read and find out.
The characters are strong and colourful. Tai, the protagonist is someone you are forced to feel for and with. Also, the female characters in the book, especially the ones that touch Tai’s life directly, are really strong and are the ones that you cannot ignore. The dynamics of different relationships are bound to be different and the author has portrayed that very well through these different characters. The author has also managed to cover and describe quite a bit of 19th-20th Century Vietnamese culture and background.
The plot is good and though not very fast paced, it will never give you the ‘drag’ feeling. But I can guarantee you that it will make you think – even days after you have finished reading it. There’s certain ‘darkness’ (for lack of a better word for it in my limited vocabulary) in it that will creep up, get a hold on you and not let go easily. And yes there’s violence that will gross you out. But there’s also love and romance. Then there is hope and forgiveness. The author has expertly dealt with both the spiritual aspects and the emotional and materialistic side of human.
The best feature of this book is the author’s style of writing. I don’t know – this might sound odd to you, but I thought that his style of writing was very elegant – not any other word, but elegant. It may be because the word elegance usually paints a ‘royal & sophisticated’ picture in my mind and that is exactly what I felt about Khanh Ha’s writing. There’s a certain charm in it that’s more at home with what we call ‘classics’ and hard to come by in modern literature. It is so expressive and touching all the while maintaining its charm. While I was reading, the smooth flow of the storyline naturally complimented his language to paint a very vivid motion picture in my mind.
This book has made a real good impression, one that’s going to last a long time, on me. I would suggest and recommend this book to the people who are looking for a book with good language, great plot, amazing characters and some ‘depth’.
About the Author
Khanh Ha was born in Hue, the former capital of Vietnam. During his teen years he began writing short stories which won him several awards in the Vietnamese adolescent magazines. He graduated from Ohio University with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism. He is at work on a new novel.
Connect with Khanh Ha
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