Cover image for She weeps each time you're born
She weeps each time you're born
Barry, Quan.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Pantheon Books, [2014]
Physical Description:
270 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
A young girl born under mysterious circumstances a few years before the reunification of Vietnam possesses the otherworldly ability to hear the voices of the dead.
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Quan Barry's luminous fiction debut brings us the tumultuous history of modern Vietnam as experienced by a young girl born under mysterious circumstances a few years before the country's reunification, a child gifted with the otherworldly ability to hear the voices of the dead.
At the peak of the war in Vietnam, a baby girl is born along the Song Ma River on the night of the full moon. This is Rabbit, who will journey away from her destroyed village with a makeshift family thrown together by war. Here is a Vietnam we've never encountered before: through Rabbit's inexplicable but radiant intuition, we are privy to an intimate version of history, from the days of French Indochina and the World War II rubber plantations through the chaos of postwar reunification. With its use of magical realism--Rabbit's ability to "hear" the dead--the novel reconstructs a turbulent historical period through a painterly human lens. This is the moving story of one woman's struggle to unearth the true history of Vietnam while simultaneously carving out a place for herself within it.

Author Notes

Born in Saigon and raised on Boston's north shore, Quan Barry is a professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of four poetry books; her third book, Water Puppets , won the AWP Donald Hall Prize for Poetry and was a PEN/Open Book finalist. She has received NEA Fellowships in both fiction and poetry, and her work has appeared in such publications as Ms. and The New Yorker . Barry lives in Wisconsin.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Barry's debut weaves a chronicle of life in pre- and postwar Vietnam within the mystical and turbulent journey of the novel's protagonist, Rabbit. Born shortly after American troops begin to withdraw from the country in the 1970s, Rabbit is left in the care of her ailing grandmother, but they have little choice but to abandon their war-torn village. Accompanied by an elderly honey seller, Huyen, and Huyen's granddaughter, Qui, they join the chaotic and desperate exodus of a population fleeing their homes for the unknown. Thus begins Rabbit's path from adolescence to early adulthood, where she navigates dislocation and harrowing incidents in an ever-shifting situation. Rabbit's tale is deepened by her unique ability to hear the voices of the dead. From these voices emerges a rich tapestry of stories, many tragic, spanning life in 1940s colonial Indochina, the reeducation camps following reunification of the North and South, and the market-oriented economic reforms of the 1980s. Barry's rich narrative entwines one personal tale with an evocative and haunting exploration of Vietnam's painful past.--Strauss, Leah Copyright 2014 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

In Vietnam in 1975, a mother dies giving birth to a girl named Rabbit, for the rabbit visible in the full moon that night. In this lyrical and mysterious debut novel, jungle dirt and violence are juxtaposed with miracles and magic throughout Rabbit's unlikely life. "Shortly after Rabbit's birth, the Americans began withdrawing from the country... [but] the war dragged on, the rice harvests left rotting in the paddies or never planted in the first place." Barry, a prolific poet, writes with stunning language, which carries the novel and elevates moments of heartbreak, despair, and perseverance. However, the story line relies on supernatural marvels that can be difficult to buy into. For instance, after Rabbit's mother dies, Rabbit is nursed by a young woman and fellow refugee named Qui, who is barely out of adolescence and likely a virgin, but whose body produces the milk with which to feed the baby. When Rabbit's grandmother dies, several years later, Rabbit absorbs all of the grandmother's memories and visions, through a kind of pipeline of knowledge. The metaphor is powerful but feels forced. While each individual vignette is mesmerizing, the leaps in logic and chronology feel jarring, and one wonders if the story would not have benefitted from a more straightforward approach. (Feb.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

Starred Review. In 2001, on an evening with a full moon-when Asian folklore says a rabbit appears on the lunar surface-Amy Quan searches for a woman in Vietnam, "where I was born in the same year as her, our lives diametrically opposite." The woman, called Rabbit, was miraculously pulled from the grave of her dead mother on another full-moon night in 1972 and nourished long past infancy by a silent woman who will never nurse her own baby. Raised by two grandmothers and a sometime father and watched over by others, Rabbit encounters the "unnamed dead" in a country torn apart by centuries of domination and destruction. In the aftermath of war, "the government was trying to create one memory, one country, one official version of what happened." From single deaths to mass graves, Rabbit reveals the "stories the world is eager to bring to light[the] stories it doesn't want told." VERDICT Blurring boundaries between history and invention, life and death, even verse and prose, English professor (Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison) and multi-award-winning poet Barry's first novel is fierce, stunning, and devastating. Readers haunted by Kim Thuy's Ru, Chang-rae Lee's A Gesture Life, and Tan Twan Eng's The Gift of Rain will revel in it. [See Prepub Alert, 8/4/14.]-Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon, Washington, DC (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Sometimes things blow shut of their own accord. The way a door creaks on its splintery wooden hinges--pain in the very sound of it. How the pain comes fluttering up in the joints, the pain permanent like new teeth. This is a moment of thresholds. The sound of doors swinging wildly somewhere in the wind. The bridge across the song ma had long since been destroyed, but the little basket boat was still sitting on the near shore, bobbing in the current. There were no oars, just a series of guide ropes one could use to pull the bamboo boat back and forth. This was the last place she'd seen him. More than eight months had passed. Little Mother still remembered the shape of Tu's neck under his hat as he pulled himself across the water, the birthmark gleaming on the edge of his hairline. They had walked to the river hand in hand through the dusk, the bats just starting to stir. Something buzzed in her ear, but she didn't swat it, not wanting him to remember her as anything less than stoic, Little Mother eager to demonstrate that she would be all right in his absence. They both knew the time had come for him to disappear, the war changing the land around them. As he slipped across the Song Ma, Tu didn't look back. The sound of water lapped against the sides of the boat as he melted into the landscape, her heart slipping away from her body. Little Mother studied the sky. There was an hour left until sundown. The old medicine man had said it would come that night. There was nothing else to do. On the far shore the rope was fastened around an iron hook set deep in a rock. She found the other end where she had left it tied up to the roots of a mangrove tree. Water sloshed in the bottom of the boat, the water hot around her ankles as she stepped in. Swiftly she pulled herself across the river, though it was mostly the current that carried her. The water coursed so dull red and matte she couldn't see anything in it, not even her own reflection. On the other side of the river she stepped out of the boat and crawled hand over hand up the bank. Just five months ago there had been a cluster of families living on both sides of the Song Ma. The families had made their living fishing and ferrying people and goods across the river. For the past few months the charred remains of their huts dotted the shoreline. Over time the blackened heaps looked less and less like the remains of houses. It was hard to say who'd done it with any certainty. Little Mother took a deep breath and held it as she hurried past without looking. The patriarch had gone running back into one of the burning huts to find his granddaughter, the thatched roof like a woman with her hair on fire. Neither the old man nor the girl were ever seen again. Little Mother half remembered meeting the little girl from time to time, her hair done in two mismatched braids, one longer than the other, a space where her front tooth was missing, the head of the new tooth just starting to show. The grandfather had been a fisherman. He was known far and wide for fishing with a snow-white cormorant, the bird an albino, its eyes a bloody pink. Until the fire, most nights the grandfather and the bird could be seen together floating on a simple raft, the old man's long gray beard in stark contrast to his bald head. In the weekly market Little Mother had heard that the man and his granddaughter were somewhere still walking the earth. She imagined meeting the two of them, the blue flames of their spirits roaming restlessly through the dark. From the look of things, with the next good rain the last of the wreckage would wash down into the river, everything as if nobody had ever lived there. *** A half mile down the road Little Mother came across the carcass of a wild sow. Its teats gleamed like big brown buttons up and down its bloated gut. Most likely the creature had eaten something poisonous. There was no noticeable trauma, though its mouth gaped, its yellowed tusks long as fingers where the gums had receded. Little Mother wondered if she herself looked like that--gums drawn so far back her teeth as if twice as long. By the trunk of a black palm she stopped to rest. In the distance the Truong Son Mountains were hazy with ash. It happened often enough that she had learned to sleep through it, the nightly rumble of distant planes. Each time it started, the night sky would light up. The next morning ash would shower down, a black confetti floating as far as Qui Nhon on the coast. *** The moon was just on the edge of the horizon as Little Mother rounded the final bend, the sugar apples coming into view in the yard. The one-room she shared with Bà was west of the Song Ma in the southern corner of the province. The first few months of her marriage things had been quiet. Then a small weapons cache was found buried in a field outside Hau Bon. The farmer said he hadn't worked the field in years, that he left it fallow as a place for the spirits of the rice to live, and that everyone for miles around knew it, but he was carted off to Pleiku anyway. After that, everything changed. Evenings she would see people floating through the hamlet she had never seen before, their accents hard to place. Across the Song Ma a village chief was killed. Someone draped a sign around his neck. puppet. Then one by one Tu and the other men of fighting age disappeared, some like Tu joining the Vietcong out in the jungle, others just slipping away. The bombings in the Truong Son Mountains began to physically change their topography, the peaks leveled, helicopters landing at all hours. And now the whole fifty square miles west of the river had been declared a free-fire zone. The Americans ordered everyone out. Tu said the Americans were trying to stamp out the Vietcong by banishing the local people. No people meant no food, no aid. In a free-fire zone the Americans could shoot without asking. Anyone remaining was assumed to be VC. Bà had begged Little Mother to stay, saying they would be all right because they were harmless, two women in the middle of nowhere, and besides, how else would Tu know where to find them when he returned from the jungle? Most of the other villagers had left for Cong Heo, the strategic hamlet in Binh Dinh Province, though Cong Heo had long since fallen into disuse. Little Mother had heard there was a wooden fence with razor wire running along the top, a ring of bamboo stakes all around the compound, the stakes gone soft with rot. As she entered the yard, she could see the door was open. Inside, a fire was burning in the fire pit, but the room was empty except for their few possessions--some cooking utensils and a pair of rice bowls stacked on a small table, Bà's hammock strung up under the window. The tin bucket they used to collect water from the creek on the other side of the orchard was missing, a ring left in the dirt where the bucket usually sat. Little Mother picked up her sleeping mat and unrolled it on the floor. Slowly she eased herself down and took off her non la . The money was there, but the flower was gone, its little pink bud like a mouth. She took a deep breath and held the hat up to the fire, searching it with her eyes for the words Tu had paid for, had chosen just for her, and how the artist had painstakingly woven them through the lining. In the long river, fish swim off without a trace. How the local people believed that a girl who wore a conical hat laced with poetry would become milder, more gentle, the girl effectively domesticated. Like a water buffalo when the farmer takes her newborn--how in her mourning for her baby, the water buffalo will do anything the farmer asks. Little Mother could feel the hole where her heart should be. The poem was gone, the writing rubbed out from sweat and the daily friction of her head. Who tends the paddy / repairs the dike? She considered going back out into the fading light, the mosquitoes beginning to swarm, maybe even going all the way to the river to look for the missing flower she had been entrusted with, but outside the visible world exploded and the first pain hit. Excerpted from She Weeps Each Time You're Born by Quan Barry All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.