Following is a review of my first novel, Village Teacher. The review was written and published today on Goodreads and Amazon by Adria Carmichael.
Village Teacher is a feelgood story you don’t want to miss if you enjoy well-written historical fiction with plenty of intrigue and twists and turns on the way.
To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect from this book at first but was immediately swept away by the whirlwind love story that occupied the first hundred pages or so. I’m far from a fan of the romance genre, but the sweet love that sparked between the humble, but exceptional Teacher Tam and the privileged half French, half Vietnamese girl Giang made my heart melt. However, just when I had accepted that this was a love story – albeit set in a richly described historical context – it shifted into a game of political intrigue where poor Teacher Tam becomes a mere pawn in powerful men’s pursuit of their own selfish goals. Then halfway through, the story takes yet another unexpected turn, and the love story is put on a pause as Teacher Tam ventures into new dire challenges.
Village Teacher is a book of contrasts. Between the selflessness of the protagonists and uninhibited and ruthless ambitions of the antagonists. Between the traditional society based on century-old Confucian and Buddhist traditions, and the relentless modernization brought on by the French colonialization. Between the worship of ancestors and the worship of Jesus. Between the lavish affluence of the colonial capital (Hue) and the poor but tranquil life in the countryside. Between those who yearn for knowledge and development, and those who fight it tooth and nail. Between those accepting the French colonialists’ grip on their country, and the rebels who try to cast them out. And one of my personal favorites – between the old Vietnamese script using Chinese characters, and then new Vietnamese script, based on the Latin letters. The author balances these contrasts masterfully as the story is driven forward without a single dull moment to break your attention. And despite being so diverse, everything comes together at the end into a very satisfactory conclusion, which lets you close the book with a smile on your face.
I would also like to highlight the role that the transformation of the Vietnamese script played in the story, which spoke to me on a personal level since I used to live in Japan and know how the use of Chinese characters has been part of forming that country, as well as Korea. I was, however, not aware that the same was true for Vietnam, and I followed that subplot with great interest. To give a brief recap, many Asian countries lacked their own scripts when first introduced to Chinese culture, and therefore imported the Chinese writing system for their languages, which was not a very good solution since the languages were so different. Japan tried to get away from this by creating two phonetic scripts that competed to replace the Chinese characters, but in the end couldn’t rid themselves of them and are now stuck with a writing system using a mix of Chinese characters and both phonetical alphabets. Korea on the other hand created a different phonetic alphabet and eventually managed to phase out the Chinese characters completely. And now I’ve learned that Vietnam adopted the Latin script for their language, which was truly fascinating… at least for me, as a language nerd 🙂