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Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains

Yasuko Thanh's historical novel takes place during the French rule of Vietnam.

Yasuko Thanh

Vietnam is a haunted country and Dr. Nguyen Georges-Minh is a haunted man. In 1908, the French rule Saigon, but uneasily; dissent whispers through the corridors of the city. Each day, more Vietnamese rebels are paraded through the streets towards the gleaming blade of the guillotine, now a permanent fixture in the main square and a gruesome warning to those who would attempt to challenge colonial rule. It is a warning that Georges-Minh will not heed. With a close-knit group of his friends calling themselves the Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains, Georges-Minh plots revenge on the French for the savagery they have shown to the Vietnamese. (From Hamish Hamilton)

Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains won the 2016 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize.

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From the book

Killing a man is easy. Life is fragile, for one. And the world is poisonous, for two. How poisonous? Cobras, mushrooms, stonefish, apple seeds. Consider the datura plant. Datura stramonium. White flowers the shape of a trumpet and the size of a human heart. The seeds, crushed with a mortar and pestle, are easily processed. Thieves and prostitutes favour its killing properties. Georges-Minh has seen the results in his practice and he has such a flower blooming in his courtyard.

Five men plotted in a circle. Five men, none of them yet thirty. Five men, cross-legged on Georges-Minh's bed, which took up half the room, no mattress in the Chinese style, carved from the rarest red wood, Georges-Minh's command centre, where he ate, slept, played cards, and officiated the meetings he held at his house twice a month.

"Mysterious Scent of the Mountains," said Khieu, who owned an inn with his wife and spent his spare time painting poetry onto the inside of rice-paper sun hats. Had it not been for winter, / the falling snow / might have been cherry blossoms. One day he would close the inn and just sell the hats whose words could be read only when they were raised to the rays of the sun.


From Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains by Yasuko Thanh ©2016. Published by Hamish Hamilton.

Author interviews

Yasuko Thanh on "Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountain", which won the Rogers Writer's Trust fiction prize last fall. 11:22

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