In November, #ReadWithMC readers picked up E.M. Tran's debut novel, Daughters of the New Year, a captivating story centered on the women of a multigenerational Vietnamese family. The first half of the novel follows Tran, Trieu, and Nhi, the daughters of Xuan Trung, a former beauty pageant queen and immigrant living in the U.S. Trung is obsessed with telling her daughters' fortunes through the Vietnamese zodiac signs, but each of her daughters has diverged completely from Trung's expectations. As the story progresses, readers travel back in time to see the lives of older generations of the Trung family and how their traumas are reflected in the present day.
With memorable prose, Daughters of the New Year dives into the societal struggles first-generation immigrants face while also confronting the intense pressures placed on immigrant children. "The author does an incredible job revealing the many layers of misunderstanding and built-up resentment that immigrant children can have for their parents, which are then countered by the perspectives and experiences their parents have undergone," writes @readwithkeely.
However, it was Tran's unabashed approach to tackling racism and misogyny that proved to be a highlight for readers. "She does not shy away from the racism and misogyny that Vietnamese people, specifically women, face on a daily basis," @beeisforbooks writes. "From the language barrier to trying to find the proper condiments at a local grocery store, every day is a struggle to be understood and respected."
Each month, we gather up the reviews of our virtual book club members so anyone else looking for their next great read has a collection of recommendations. Here's what #ReadWithMC readers had to say about Daughters of the New Year.
"A beautiful book that deserved a pic with this beautiful flower mural in Cleveland 🌼🌻🌸
Grab a copy if you like multi-generational stories! This beautiful novel focuses on several generations of women in a Vietnamese family and is uniquely told in a reverse timeline, starting with the present and working its way through the past.
The first half of the novel focuses on Tran, Nhi, and Trieu who are all daughters of Xuan. They've grown up as Vietnamese American in New Orleans, and each has dealt with the pressures and expectations put on them in different ways, much of which comes from their mother's belief in their astrology and the implications of their zodiac signs. Tran, the oldest, has long been the overachiever and is pursuing a prestigious law career, but is trying to claim her own independence from her parents and come to terms with her sexuality. Nhi, the middle child, has stepped into mainstream media as a participant in a Bachelor-esque program as the only minority - while it's being filmed in Vietnam. Trieu, the youngest, is the one full of unmet potential.
We get to see the ways that these characters interact with each other, and the events and experiences that have shaped them over time. The author does an incredible job revealing the many layers of misunderstanding and built-up resentment that immigrant children can have for their parents, which are then countered by the perspectives and experiences their parents have undergone. She's also able to highlight and celebrate the Asian experience and Vietnamese culture, but also notes how jarring and difficult it is to grow up as a minority in a different country, where your appearance and upbringing is so different to everyone else. I also appreciated the strong sense of place and time the novel had, with events like 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and the Vietnam War having an impact."
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"✨️ ʙᴏᴏᴋ ʀᴇᴠɪᴇᴡ ✨️
𝐃𝐚𝐮𝐠𝐡𝐭𝐞𝐫𝐬 𝐨𝐟 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐍𝐞𝐰 𝐘𝐞𝐚𝐫 𝐛𝐲 𝐄. 𝐌. 𝐓𝐫𝐚𝐧
Pub Date: 10.11.2022
👉🏽 𝐒𝐰𝐢𝐩𝐞 𝐭𝐨 𝐫𝐞𝐚𝐝 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐛𝐨𝐨𝐤 𝐬𝐲𝐧𝐨𝐩𝐬𝐢𝐬!
📌 Book Review:
Daughters of the New Year has a little bit of everything mixed into this debut novel from E. M. Tran.
You get a family saga of a multigenerational Vietnamese family. Instead of going the more traditional route, Tran decides to take her readers from the present day to the past when the first of their family immigrated from Vietnam to the States. (Please don’t let that sway you from reading this novel - it totally worked for me!)
Tran's writing style is beautiful. She gives you a sense of what life can be like being a refugee in search of a new home in the States. Tran explores generational pain in a way that resonates to me as a reader. She does not shy away from the racism and misogyny that Vietnamese people, specifically women, face on a daily basis. From the language barrier to trying to find the proper condiments at a local grocery store, every day is a struggle to be understood and respected.
If you’re looking for a family drama to get sucked into, check this one out!
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"Saigon is bustling, dizzying, electric. The streets overflow in the southern dialect I was raised with, and I eavesdrop on conversations above the rumble of motorbikes. I don’t have to listen carefully because it’s almost impossible to speak Vietnamese in less than a shout. My dark ponytail grazes the small of my back, slicked back by sweat, and I walk with ease. Blending with the surging crowds, I snake through undetected. My grandmother’s jade shines on my collarbones.
My Saigon isn’t real. And this version of me, fluent in her first language, isn’t either. I fill in the gaps of my family’s history, reading about stories and histories and imagining the intersections. Once I regain fluency and can navigate without shame, I’ll visit Vietnam, I tell myself, the place my parents turned away from since 1975.
Lineage tracing in the midst of erasure—and its third culture byproduct—centers E.M. Tran’s DAUGHTERS OF THE NEW YEAR. Her debut is not a typical family drama; while it covers the Trung women in post-Katrina New Orleans, it sharply pivots to their ancestors. The narrative regresses to the Vietnam War, French colonization, and Vietnam’s early struggles against the Han Chinese. Each generation finds themselves drawn to the water, be it the Mississippi or Saigon River, and this metaphor of drowning versus survival lends itself to an ethereal, haunting resilience.
In arranging a bouquet of narratives, Tran demonstrates that personal and broader histories are cyclical. The challenges of assimilation are a continuation of resistance against imperialism. Though the halves of the book are fragmented, this structure bodes larger questions: How do you tell a story that’s inherently incomplete? How do small acts of resistance ripple across generations?
I am another Vietnamese-American woman by the water: the Pacific Ocean of my childhood, and now, sandwiched between the Hudson and East Rivers. When I yearn for home—which is often—I gaze at my hands. In doing so, I recall Thich Nhat Hanh’s reminder that, 'you will see your parents and all generations of your ancestors. All of them are alive in this moment…You are the continuation of each of these people.'"
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"🐉 Daughters of the New Year by E.M. Tran
Daughters of the New Year follows generations of women in a single Vietnamese family throughout their lives, but it does so in reverse order. We first meet Trac, Nhi, and Trieu - three sisters living in New Orleans and tackling first generation issues like pleasing their parents while also fulfilling their own dreams. They are haunted by generations past, who sometimes show up as shadows or images in the present.
As the book progresses, time moves backward and the reader gets to meet past relatives, all female, and learn of their struggles through the years and learn how intergenerational trauma is handed down.
While the present day characters were very real and vibrant, some of the older generations seemed lost as they were only glimpsed briefly. The backwards timeline made it difficult for me to follow at times. For me, this was a rare book that started off really strong but lost its oomph towards the end.
I really enjoyed the audiobook, especially the pronunciation of names and phrases in a tonal language completely foreign to me. I also enjoyed the lunar zodiac information woven throughout the book.
❓QOTD: What is your zodiac sign? Do you know what your zodiac animal is in the lunar calendar?
AOTD: I am a Gemini & a goat. ♊️ 🐐"
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"If you want to read pitch-perfect prose about mothers and daughters rubbing each other the wrong way, the first half of this book is as good as it gets. Xuan came to America as a refugee from Vietnam. Now living in post-Katrina New Orleans, she calls her daughters every year to tell them what the zodiac says is in store from them. Xuan spends hours on her research and it is the prism through which she interprets the world and her daughters. It’s one of my favorite parts of the book, adding whimsy, mythology and some humor to what otherwise might feel like family bickering. It also illustrates the divide between Xuan and her American-born daughters who are having to navigate a world in which they are not 'Vietnamese' enough for their community or “American” enough for the world at large.
The second half travels back in time to Vietnam. It follows the matrilineal line of the family. I found this part to be less successful. The zodiac largely disappears. But these women are incredibly strong and their silences hide moments of jaw-dropping impact. In my heart of hearts I wanted the author to circle back to Xuan and her daughters at the end. To me it felt like there was a chapter missing. Even so, there’s a lot to like in this book and I’m looking forward to reading whatever E.M. Tran does next."
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Brooke Knappenberger is the Editorial Fellow at Marie Claire, where she writes across the board from fashion and beauty to books and celebrities. As a pop culture junkie, Brooke obsessively consumes and writes about the latest movie releases, streaming TV shows, and celebrity scandals. She has over three years of experience writing on fashion, beauty, and entertainment and her work has appeared on Looper, NickiSwift, The Sun US, and Vox Magazine of Columbia, Missouri. Brooke obtained her Bachelor's Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism with an emphasis on Magazine Editing and has a minor in Textile and Apparel Management.