All the Rivers Flow into the Sea & Other Stories
by Khanh Ha
EastOver Press

"White egrets stepped silently in the wet mud, heads cocked, watching with one eye for fish. Seeing the lantern's light, the birds tipped their heads, regarding us."

This short story collection centers on everyday Vietnamese people's lives, most of whom have been affected, directly or indirectly, by the Vietnam War. Some of these characters had their lives impacted during the conflict, and others find that they carry it with them, decades later, like a shadow or the ghost of an ancestor. What these tales have in common is a focus on the human faces that front all these stories, be those visages kind, heroic, or barbaric. Memorable stories include a compassionate nun who runs an orphanage, a young girl and her father helped by an American during the war, and an international student interacting with a hotel maid. More poignantly, the history and culture that shape the characters captivate the book's readers.

Ha writes with an intimacy not often seen. The small bits of these characters' lives become filled with meaning and significance. His stories and sentences flow together slowly and then seamlessly become something powerful. The language he chooses isn't so much flowery as precise and sharply detailed, reminiscent of Joyce's epiphany or the satori moment from Japanese literature. Each story is its own being, yet the whole works together to become something larger, universal. The emotions, actions, and reactions that make people remarkably, imperfectly, and beautifully human are at the heart of this. Readers without much knowledge of Vietnamese culture will find themselves entranced by how absorbing, fascinating, and somehow still familiar it is. Ha's compassion for these characters and their stories is abundant, almost reverent. All told, this creates a memorable reading experience.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

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