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Vietnamese Novel 'The Mountains Sing' Honored by Prestigious US Peace Prize

The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai was named the runner-up for this year's Dayton Literary Peace Prize in the fiction category. 

Founded in 2006, the prize is the United States' only award dedicated to recognizing works of literature that promote peace, social justice and global understanding. First-place winners in fiction and non-fiction categories receive a US$10,000 honorarium, while one runner-up in each category receives US$5,000.

The Mountains Sing is a sweeping multi-generational novel that depicts the struggles and triumphs of a Vietnamese family from the colonial period through the American War. In a note sent to the prize committee, Quế Mai explained: "When I was a small child, I stood on the dirt road of my village in Việt Nam looking at the devastation around me, as well as at the people who had lost their family members or their arms and legs. I told myself, The human race would not be so stupid to wage another war. Yet growing up, I realized that I was naïve and that humans always find excuses for wars and conflicts. The Mountains Sing is my yearning for peace, for human compassion, for forgiveness, for hope, and for humans to love humans more."

The judges for the award noted how the novel provides an important perspective on Vietnam, as American readers are usually not privileged to views beyond those of Americans. They remarked, "Quế Mai’s style is powerful yet unornamented: as a poet, she knows how to reduce an image down to its best essence and then surprise us with a glimpse of the transcendent." 

The Mountains Sing is an international best-seller and has won numerous awards including the 2021 PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Literary Award and a pair of prizes at the 2021 International Book Awards. The first high-profile novel to be written by a Vietnamese national in English, it comes after Quế Mai wrote numerous books across genres in Vietnamese. Much of her work focuses on unifying people across political, geographic, cultural and historic divides. 

Alexander Starritt’s We Germans, a novel written in the form of a letter from a German soldier to his grandson, was awarded the first prize in the fiction category. They both will be honored at an event for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize in Dayton, Ohio this year.

[Photo via Rambling Mads]

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