Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Book Review: Flesh by Khanh Ha


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.

Black Heron Press | June 15, 2012 | 368 pages

My Review

3.5 Stars

Flesh, the debut novel from author Khanh Ha, tells the story of Tai, an Annamese adolescent.  At the novel's outset, Tai witnesses the execution of his father for banditry.  Set at the end of the 19th century in the north of Annam (now part of Vietnam), Tai sets out on a quest to recover his father's head for proper burial.  While on this quest Tai meets a stranger - Mr. Đinh Hòa - who will be the instrument for tremendous change in his young life.  Moving to Hanoi to work for Mr. Đinh Hòa, Tai encounters some of the seedier aspects of city life, yet he also experiences love, friendship and hope.
The greatest strength of Flesh is its beautiful prose.  Ha has a lovely way with words, and his eloquent descriptions help to paint a vivid picture of life in turn of the century Hanoi and its surrounding villages.  Tai is a young man who will fascinate readers. Although there are many times throughout the novel where Tai finds himself getting into some sort of trouble, his reasons for doing so are always noble.  The colourful supporting cast is equally intriguing, and each secondary character serves, in one way or another, to facilitate Tai's growth.  The love story that runs throughout the second half of the novel is beautifully drawn, helping the reader to forget that there is a dark side to Tai's story.  While I was captivated by the author's prose from the outset, I found the early chapters slow going.  Once the narrative shifts to Hanoi, however, the plot gains momentum and carries the reader to an unexpected yet satisfying conclusion.  

Flesh is recommended to readers who enjoy literary historical fiction, as well as historical fiction set in Asia. 

Note: I received a copy of this novel as part of Khanh Ha's virtual book tour in exchange for a fair and honest review. 

Flesh is on tour.  You can check out the tour schedule by clicking here 

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 studied Journalism at Ohio University and learned the craft of writing under Daniel Keyes (Flowers for Algernon) and Walter Tevis (The Man Who Fell to Earth).  FLESH (Black Heron Press, June 2012) is his first novel (literary fiction).

For more information, please visit Khanh Ha's WEBSITE and BLOG