Banyan Moon by Thao Thai
Published by Mariner Books
Publication date: June 27, 2023
Genres: Book Clubs, Fiction, Cultural
The complex and delicate relationships between mothers and daughters is at the center of Thao Thai’s debut novel, Banyan Moon. Towards the end of the Vietnam War, Minh and her daughter, Huong, left Vietnam for America to settle in Florida. Huong’s daughter, Ann, is born there and the three live together in a decrepit mansion called Banyan House until Ann leaves home. Now, Minh has died and Ann and Huong struggle to repair the threads of a family dynamic left shredded by decades of unspoken truths, mistakes, and secrets.
Ann’s relationship with her mother is such that she leaves Florida for college, and never returns, choosing instead to live in Michigan with her wealthy boyfriend and working as a freelance illustrator. Her life there begins to unravel when she learns of her beloved grandmother’s death, forcing her to return home where there’s nothing left but a house she loves and a mother she doesn’t.
Minh and Huong have their own stories to tell, but the inability to share is the crux of Banyan Moon. The women comprise a Venn diagram with the only intersecting point being love, but with so many opposing circles of each one’s nature and what has been imposed by circumstances, it’s not enough to hold them together. Each is strong and resilient, but they hold everything inside them, meaning too much is left unsaid.
Despite the trend towards more drama in fiction, perhaps as a reaction to the fractured attention span of readers bombarded by the extremism becoming commonplace in the everyday world, Banyan Moon maintains a slower pace. Thai’s writing is true enough to her characters that no exaggeration is needed for the trauma evoked. The resentment and recrimination that eat through the novel’s pages like acid come from the more mundane—harsh words, an embarrassing incident, or thoughtless remarks, but are enough to derail the relationships for weeks and even years. As a reader who is drawn to more outsize events to keep my attention these days, I appreciate the restraint in showing how painful even the average hurts in life can be. It’s a welcome reminder that extremism is exhausting and unhealthy.
Given the attention Thai pays to detail throughout the novel it is interesting and frustrating that although Banyan House is practically a character within the story, its history and meaning is never explained. It leaves a gaping hole in a story that is otherwise tightly woven. But while it felt like a missed opportunity, the rest of Banyan Moon won me over with its insight into the intricacies of generational differences and the bond between mothers and daughters.
This post contains affiliate links which means if you click on a link and make a purchase of any kind, I get a small commission (at no cost to you).