Winner of the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize
How can you stand up to tyranny when your own identity is in turmoil?
Vietnam is a haunted country, and Dr. Nguyen Georges-Minh is a haunted man. In 1908, the French maintain an uneasy rule in Saigon, dissent whispering through the corridors of the city. Each day, more Vietnamese rebels are paraded through the streets towards the gleaming blade of the guillotine, now a permanent fixture in the main square and a gruesome warning to those who would attempt to challenge colonial rule.
It is a warning that Georges-Minh will not heed. A Vietnamese national and Paris-educated physician, he is obsessed by guilt over his material wealth and nurses a secret loathing for the French connections that have made him rich, even as they have torn his beloved country apart.
With a close-knit group of his friends calling themselves the Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains, Georges-Minh plots revenge on the French for the savagery they have shown to the Vietnamese. And it falls to Georges-Minh to create a poison to mix into the Christmas dinner of a garrison of French soldiers. It is an act that will send an unmistakable message to the French: Get out of Vietnam.
But the assassination attempt goes horribly wrong. Forced to flee into the deep jungles of the outer provinces, Georges-Minh must care for his infant son, manage the growing madness of his wife, and elude capture by the hill tribes and the small--but lethal--pockets of French sympathizers.
Journey Prize winner Yasuko Thanh transports us into a vivid, historical Vietnam, one that is filled with chaotic streets, teeming marketplaces, squalid opium dens, and angry ghosts that exist side by side with the living.
YASUKO THANH is a Canadian novelist and short story writer born in Victoria, British Columbia. Her story collection Floating Like the Dead was shortlisted for the Danuta Gleed Award and the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize. The title story won the Journey Prize for the best story published in Canada in 2009. Quill & Quire named Floating Like the Dead a best book of the year. CBC hailed Yasuko Thanh one of ten writers to watch in 2013. Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains is her debut novel inspired by the history of her father's family in French Indochina. She lives in Victoria, B.C., with her two children. In her spare time she plays in a punk band called 12 Gauge Facial, for which she writes all the songs and music.
Winner of the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize
Finalist for the 2017 Amazon.ca/Books in Canada First Novel Award
One of the NP99: National Post’s best books of 2016
“Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains offers a very readable and equally savage look at colonial Vietnam. Yasuko Thanh’s writing whips up a miasma of jasmine oil and incense and opium smoke, while remaining gauzy as tulle. Which is not to say the story is frivolous. Think of a shiv as opposed to a longsword: one is showy and unwieldy, the other, subtle and devastating. Thanh spares us the weighty sentimentality and epic posturing of some historical novels, and gets right to the goods, through stirring narrative and imagery . . . Thanh’s ability to navigate such brutal territory with a steady hand makes this book a must-read.”—Globe and Mail
“Deft touches of magical realism lend this story of love, obligation, and sabotage the mysterious aura referenced in the title.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains will carry you away with the startling clarity of its language—you will almost forget you are reading at all. Until, that is, you are drawn up short by the uncanny sense that this book is not really about the past at all . . . that it is instead directly addressing you, the reader.”—Johanna Skibsrud, Scotiabank Giller Prize-winning author of The Sentimentalists
“Sweeping yet intimate, Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains is a novel in which not a single, haunting detail is trivial, and a devastating edginess straddles what is intoxicating, astonishing, and at once ancient and contemporary. Yasuko Thanh has rendered a richly imagined narrative of five men plotting, drinking, dreaming of poison against the fascinating backdrop of colonialism and revolution, where ghosts, superstition, love, and insanity seethe. This is a book to be savoured, thought about, and discussed — a book to be remembered.”—Alexandra Curry, author of The Courtesan
“The universal legacies of colonialism: guilt, revenge, violence, ghosts. Yasuko Thanh captures Viet Nam's historical intrigues in story-telling that is compelling, vivid, tragic, passionate.”—Kim Echlin, author of The Disappeared
“The ordinary mingles with the monumental…. A novel that feels simultaneously historical and firmly contemporary.” — MAISONNEUVE Magazine
"Straining under the colonial rule of the French at the turn of the twentieth century, Vietnam is rife with corruption, oppression, opium dens, and revolutionary cells, and an active guillotine dominates a Saigon square. With compelling narrative drive, Yasuko Thanh imbues Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains with atmosphere and resonance, and creates mesmerizing characters who undergo complex change — politically, socially, personally, sexually — as they are gathered into a vortex of intrigue and risk. The author is as fearless and as wise in reshaping the mystique of the revolutionary as she is in delineating a dramatic time and place in this elegant and tantalizing novel."- 2016 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize Jury Lauren B. Davis, Trevor Ferguson, and Pasha Malla
"There is much in Mistakes to Run With to ponder about sacrifice, human nature, and acceptance." - BC Booklook