Saturday, September 22, 2012
Flesh by Khanh Ha
Flesh starts with a memorable opening scene. The novel's protagonist, Tai, a young man of sixteen, stands numbed as he watches his bandit father undergo his punishment. He is decapitated by the uncle who raised him but who is the royal executioner. Tai, his mother and little brother, are there to bear witness and to take his father's body away for burial.
Thus begins Tai's journey to bring honor back to his family. Before the book ends, this journey takes him to new cities to live among strangers, to a love that will define his life, and to violence as he strives to protect those he loves. Tai and his mother are desperate to find an honorable burial site for his father and little brother. In order to do so, Tai indentures his service for two years.
His new master takes him away to a city. There is much to be learned there, about opium dens, about service, about those whose lives are lived in both Vietnam and China. He meets another indentured servant, Xiaoli, a beautiful girl who befriends him and who he will protect with his life.
Khanh Ha was born in Vietnam. This is his debut novel. Although the events are violent and disturbing, the writing itself is lyrical and haunting. The events seem to unfold in a dream, slowly revealing the stories that make up the intertwined lives of the characters. This book is recommended for readers interested in other cultures, and what family honor will drive men to do.