The Vietnam war still works as an inspiration for novelists . On my first glance to Mark W. Sasse’s historical fiction/contemporary romance novel The Reach of the Banyan Tree , I took it as another war story. But with the turning of every page my heart leaped up with new wonders , it’s not only a book about war , it’s a narration of life , of love , of friendship and destiny.
I reviewed Sasse’s previous publication The Recluse Storyteller and was bowled over by his unique narrative style which reminded me of the ‘stream of consciousness’ style. This time he clearly avoided that and rather has followed the classical method of story-telling .
The story covers a span of almost seventy years , starting from the World War II and ending in 2014 , not at a stretch though. Charles Regal Carson III , the son of American billionaire Charles Regal Carson II , owner of Carson Oil , arrives in Vietnam as he wants to live his own life , away from the grandiose of his father. He meets Thuy, a Vietnamese girl and both of them are head over heels for each other. While visiting a historic site , Phuong Hoang Cave in North Vietnam , Chip suddenly discovers his grandfather’s name ,Charles Regal Carson , etched on the stone wall connected by a heart sign with another name , Mai. The mention of the” The Flying Dutchman” phrase after the name makes him sure of his ancestral connection. A plethora of thoughts ransack his minds as he tries to connect the loose end that is related with the name Mai , of whom he knows nothing.
In the meantime , Thuy’s father clearly states his acrimony towards Americans and firmly discards Chip to be his daughter’s betrothed lover. Things do change when Chip tells Thang (Thuy’s father) about his lineage and his enormous property and Chip and Thuy definitely could hear the merry ring of the wedding bells. Destiny comes taking control once again and an accident occurs that makes Chip an accused , a convict and a person whom Thuy’s family abhor from their hearts.
It is during this time when Chip is rotting in his solitary cell , that he comes to know of the connection which his grandpa shares with Vietnam. A log-book or diary reaches him which enlightens him about different unknown facets of Charles Regal Carson and his stay in Vietnam during the World War II. The story of a soldier who had impeccable manners, ethics and humanly emotions.
Sasse likes to spread different coloured strings at the beginning of his narration ,only to bind them up as a perfect garland in the end. The book utters very little about love or romance , has almost no amorous or intimate dialogue which the readers generally expect from a love-story , still the aroma of romance hovers all along the book. Love in its different forms, requited or unrequited , lost or found.
The country of Vietnam, its struggle for independence,hatred for the French and the Americans , the leader Ho Chi Minh and the current socio-political and economic conditions all have come alive in this book. And so veracious are the descriptions that it sometimes becomes difficult to discriminate between historical facts and fiction.
There are several major characters in the story apart from Chip and Thuy. Depiction of all the characters are accurate enough to take them for real , one can easily relate any average American billionaire with Carson II who genuinely thinks that money can buy everything and everyone on earth. While there are persons like Long and Mai who keep friendship and gratitude over anything and everything.
And there is the Banyan tree, standing high above the mortal beings in Tan-Trao , a witness of the past and present , of all that is done and undone…a tree which “sees all, knows all, and keeps many secrets. It knows a time of bondage and a time of freedom. Its reach never stops; it keeps growing and expanding regardless of circumstances, regardless of difficulties. Time and destiny are on its side…. ” The Banyan tree is a character here which encompasses the other ones.
The language is simple . No ostentatious display of vocabulary , no sashaying along the rhetorical roads and thus its beauty lies in its simplicity. If you want to read a story which you’ll find hard to put down and must finish in one go , The Reach of the Banyan Tree is perfect for you . Absolutely recommended for all.
From my side it’s 4.5/5
About The Author
Mark W. Sasse currently lives in Malaysia teaching drama and history. He lived in Vietnam for ten years which provided the rich background of modern day Vietnam in his first novel “Beauty Rising” released in December 2012 followed by “The Recluse Storyteller” in 2013. He just finished writing his third novel with a release date of 2014.
When he is not writing novels, his other passion comes out: live theater. He has published a series of plays of different genres including “Grandparents’ War”, “Spy Blue”, “Take Two: Who Directs Your Life”, and “Life with Stewart”. He also produced and directed all of these as original stage productions.
Sasse grew up in western Pennsylvania as a huge baseball fan. He loves to cook and spend time with his family.
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