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Flesh

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Overview

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 ...
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Overview

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 acknowledge his bond, and his resemblance, to a man he barely knew-his father. Through this story of revenge is woven a 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.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Vietnam-born Ha’s beautifully described yet murkily executed first novel, set in his native country at the turn of the 20th century, opens with an infamous yet respected bandit being beheaded in front of his wife and their two young sons. This beginning casts a pall over the tale as Tai, the eldest son, embarks on a far-reaching journey to retrieve his father’s skull, find a suitable burial site, and seek revenge on the man who betrayed his father’s trust. Through a series of twists and turns—some more developed than others—Tai trades two years’ service to a wealthy entrepreneur for land on which to bury the father’s remains. During that time, Tai loses his heart to Xiaoli, an indentured servant working in an opium den, and will do anything—including holding off on vengeance and killing a French soldier—to protect her. In this dark, violent, and poetic saga, with disjointed cinematic vignettes that make it often read like a screenplay, characters are not who they seem. While this makes for a thrilling finale, what lingers more than the somewhat weak plot is Ha’s descriptive prose. (May)
Library Journal
Set mostly in turn-of-the-20th-century Hanoi, this debut novel begins and ends with gruesome beheadings. Bearing witness to both executions is Tài, a poor teenage village boy quickly forced into manhood. In an effort to reclaim his betrayed bandit father's severed head and finance an auspicious burial, Tài spends the next year on an odyssey about his father, their troubled family, and his own unsure self. Indentured to a geomancer who sells his contract to a wealthy Chinese merchant, Tài glimpses the backstreet Hanoi life of opium dens, desperate coolies, and the lawless rich—and has his first experience of falling in love, which incites his own vengeful violence. VERDICT Written in a cowboyish twang filled with "yup," "ain't," "em," and "gonna"—possibly meant to simulate the vernacular of the day—the novel never quite loses its anachronistic feel. One more edit might have trimmed some of the meandering passages and extraneous characters, but the fast-paced story pushes briskly to the finish. Readers who enjoy epic sagas set in faraway lands will find absorbing satisfaction here.—Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon, Washington, DC
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780930773885
  • Publisher: Black Heron Press
  • Publication date: 6/15/2012
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.70 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Khanh Ha was born in Hue, the former capital of Vietnam. During his teen years, he began writing short stories which won several awards in Vietnamese adolescent magazines. He graduated from Ohio University (Athens, Ohio) with a bachelor's degree in Journalism. Flesh is his first novel. He is at work on another novel.

Khanh Ha was born in Hue, the former capital of Vietnam. During his teen years, he began writing short stories which won several awards in Vietnamese adolescent magazines. He graduated from Ohio University (Athens, Ohio) with a bachelor's degree in Journalism. Flesh is his first novel. He is at work on another novel.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 7 )
Rating Distribution

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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 18, 2012

    A Vietnamese Red Sorghum While reading Flesh I couldn’t h

    A Vietnamese Red Sorghum

    While reading Flesh I couldn’t help thinking of Red Sorghum – not the movie but the novel. I thought it’d be marvelous to see Flesh in a Chinese translation, much as it was a treat to me in college when I came upon an English translation of Red Sorghum. In the hand of Howard Goldblatt, Red Sorghum became tighter and easier to read than its original Chinese which I read in my high school year.

    First the emotion that Flesh brought: vividly graphic prose that grips you with horrifying scenes of human sickness, of squalid poverty, of blind superstitions, of desperate struggles in everyday hardship, of valiant efforts to face human evil head-on – all set in a darkest time of Annam at the turn of the 20th century.

    Then the aftereffect: so much tragic endurance from heartbreak does not cast a gloomy view in the novel simply because Flesh is vibrant with humanity. It carries in its womb a redemptive quality that good fiction always does. Truly, it shines with a prose both lush and lilting. And that will last a long time.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 23, 2013

    I suppose I have somewhat mixed feelings about this book. Yes, I

    I suppose I have somewhat mixed feelings about this book. Yes, I can agree without a doubt that this is a book that is full of history that I honestly had never heard. I know very little about Vietnam, and this told me much about nineteenth century Annam (which became Vietnam). I was horrified to discover how the people were treated by the Chinese, and the barbarism nearly sickened me. The realism of the book certainly made an impression on me.

    I was somewhat turned off by the unnecessary profanity. Thankfully the bedroom scenes were not described. And sex did not seem to rule the characters in the book--which was nice. The book was so dark that I often struggled to read it. It is not an easy read. It is one of those books where you must engage your brain thoroughly as you read. I found I could not read the book at night because it was too depressing and too realistic at time.

    The strength of this book (in addition to the history) is the author's descriptions. He is a master at detailed descriptions to the point that you can see it happening the way the author intended you to. The brutality in the book was descriptive but not to the point that I had to "look away." Granted, I would not have wanted to see a film of those scenes, but I felt that all the scenes were tastefully written.

    While this is not a book that I would pick up for a light read, if you are in the mood for some historical fiction with intense descriptions, this is the book for you!

    I was sent a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. I was not financially compensated, and all opinions are 100 percent mine.

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  • Posted August 27, 2012

    Dark Fiction This is dark fiction. You are transported to a d

    Dark Fiction This is dark fiction. You are transported to a distant
    place steeped in an alien culture that highlights the
    ancestor-worshipping belief and unorthodox practices in animism. The
    beheading horrors and the poverty wretchedness are so powerfully painted
    you simply follow the narrative. This fiction is literary, judging from
    the beauty of its prose, the strength of its characterization. It
    portrays the dark side of humanity as equally well as it paints the love
    story between the sixteen-year-old boy, who is the protagonist, and the
    girl a year older than he. If Ha hits you with dark horrors, he soothes
    you with the lushness of his prose and pampers you with the tender love
    you wish you would fall in love again. In the end, as a reader, you ask
    yourself: Is the world that horrible or that beautiful?

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted July 31, 2012

    A Pleasant Surprise I like books that make you think about the

    A Pleasant Surprise


    I like books that make you think about them after you’ve put them away. The power of words alone won’t cut the mustard. Only books that bring nutrition to the soul will stay around, at least in your mind. They stay alive with unforgettable characters, the perpetual clash of good and evil and what comes out of it, the human ignorance and redemption.

    When I picked up The Homecoming of Samuel Lake from a New Fiction shelf in my local library, I already had a notion about this much talked about book. Then I was taken by the Flesh’s cover. Samuel Lake didn’t disappoint me; in fact, it took me to a new height. And I was wary of the letdown when I picked up the next book. I picked up Flesh. No high expectation. Read it in three days. Caught in the whirlwind of its first two chapters. And never got out of it till three days later.

    Ha writes with a lyrical grace that’s seldom seen in most of the books I’ve read. The power of words. But Ha has more to offer you in his first novel, much like Jenny Wingfield in Samuel Lake, her first. These are books that you will love to discuss with your bookclub’s friends. They have so much to offer. And a darn pleasant surprise too.

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  • Posted July 21, 2012

    A Daring Novel Years ago when I read W. Saroyan’s "T

    A Daring Novel

    Years ago when I read W. Saroyan’s "The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze", my thought was, I’ve never read anything like this. Having just read Flesh, a novel set in the old Vietnam (called Annam then) at the turn of the 20th century, the same thought hit me.

    Flesh is written in a stylish prose. The prose is chameleonlike. Sometimes boyish, sometimes formal, sometimes poetic. And it’s deeply moving. It’s not a boy’s voice. It’s the voice through reminiscence of an old man in his seventies. His entire life is captured in this novel which opens with this simple sentence: "In my twilight years, my possessions are sparse." From there you listen to the voice and grow to trust it. And you begin journeying back a hundred plus years in time to the land called ‘Nam’.

    Reading Flesh is like reading a collection of short stories. Yet unlike Jerzy Kosinski’s Steps where an assortment of surreal, odd stories works like steps that lead you to various places with no attachments to one another, Flesh packs a punch in its steplike chapters, in part and in whole. It brings us a kaleidoscope of lush descriptions of the land, the people of the old Vietnam. Its story line is serpentine, its ambiance is at times grim, at times snug, at times moody. Then comes the biggest twist in the ending. Here it is, a hint from the novel’s book trailer:

    ‘When the boy faces the truth about the girl he’s madly in love with, and the employer whom he considers his surrogate father, he knows he has only one answer. . . .’

    ‘From this backdrop . . .

    Flesh takes you to the darkest side of life . . .’

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  • Posted July 15, 2012

    What a fine writer Ha is. FLESH is both sophisticated and comple

    What a fine writer Ha is. FLESH is both sophisticated and complex; yet it delivers a spare narrative with such a sheer prose.

    I haven't read anything like FLESH, regarding originality, since RICE by Su Tong. There are many debut novels that come out of nowhere and seize you and won't let go, e.g., Memoirs of a Geisha, The Tide That Binds, Cold Mountain, and FLESH is one of them. (Review originally from Goodreads)

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  • Posted July 14, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Almost Dreamlike

    Flesh by Khanh Ha is a novel tak­ing place in Viet­nam and China. It is a com­ing of age story in a dark time of a young man’s life.

    Life in Annam (Viet­nam) is hard and ugly. A young boy named Tai wit­nesses the behead­ing of his father, a known ban­dit, and swears to bring back his skull to be buried with his body. On his quest, Tai becomes an inden­tured ser­vant, get involved in the opium trade, meets a girl and learn more and more about the father he hardly knew.

    As I read Flesh, Khanh Ha's debut novel, it seemed to me that the story is almost dream­like. A dream in that early hours of a hot morn­ing where you are still in between sleep­ing and wak­ing up. Your con­scious mind taps into your unfor­got­ten but repressed mem­o­ries which lash out in vicious force with unfor­giv­ing sto­ry­lines. While not always bad, these dreams have a ten­dency to shape the day or the week with their bru­tal hon­esty and, quite hon­estly, make excel­lent stories.

    The novel starts with a behead­ing and ends with a behead­ing, both of them wit­nessed by the pro­tag­o­nist, Tai, a teenage boy who is thrust into man­hood after his father is exe­cuted (behead­ing #1 – this is not a spoiler, it hap­pens on the first few pages). In accor­dance with his beliefs, Tai goes on a quest to reunite his father’s skull with the rest of his body and hence to bring him peace.

    Much of the story takes place in 20th Cen­tury Viet­nam, where life is harsh and peo­ple do what it takes to sur­vive. The jour­ney through­out the book, whether through light or dark­ness, is fas­ci­nat­ing, vio­lent and even heart­break­ing. I do think that the book could have been a bit tighter, but that did not dis­tract me from the adventure.

    Mr. Ha is a tal­ented writer; he does a won­der­ful job set­ting the dark, yet poetic, mood and a fine job describ­ing set­tings in vivid, smells, col­or­ful imagery. Each chap­ter reads like a long lost mem­ory, as if Tai was recall­ing his life in an older age and telling the story to a grand­child or an engaged reader.

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