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Bronze Drum by Phong Nguyen: A Book Review

Bronze Drum
Author: Phong Nguyen
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Release Date: 2022
Pages: 402
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis: In 40 CE, in the Au Lac region of ancient Vietnam, two daughters of a Vietnamese Lord fill their days training, studying, and trying to stay true to Vietnamese traditions. While Trung Trac is disciplined and wise, always excelling in her duty, Trung Nhi is fierce and free spirited, more concerned with spending time in the gardens and with lovers.

     But these sister's lives—and the lives of their people—are shadowed by the oppressive rule of the Han Chinese. They are forced to adopt Confucian teachings, secure marriages, and pay ever‑increasing taxes. As the peoples' frustration boils over, the country comes ever closer to the edge of war.

     When Trung Trac and Trung Nhi's father is executed, their world comes crashing down around them. With no men to save them against the Han's encroaching regime, they must rise and unite the women of Vietnam into an army. Solidifying their status as champions of women and Vietnam, they usher in a period of freedom and independence for their people.

     Vivid, lyrical, and filled with adventure, The Bronze Drum is a true story of standing up for one's people, culture, and country that has been passed down through generations of Vietnamese families through oral tradition. Phong Nguyen's breathtaking novel takes these real women out of legends and celebrates their loves, losses, and resilience in this inspirational story of women's strength and power even in the face of the greatest obstacles.

     My Review: The Trung sisters are national heroines of Vietnam. They rebelled against Han China and became co-queens. However, they were eventually defeated by China. In this historical novel, Bronze Drum tells not only the story of the Trung sisters, but how the Vietnamese suffered under China. The oppression they suffered under the hands of China forces the Trung sisters to go to war.

     I was really excited about this novel because there are very few novels written about the Trung sisters. Yet, it did not take long for my excitement to begin to turn to disappointment. The reason why I was letdown was to die with the characterization of Trung Trac and Trung Nhi. The two sisters were very one-dimensional. They were not given much depth. Trung Trac is introduced as the obedient daughter who stays inside to read and write. There are times when she is rebellious, but she mostly stays the same. Trung Nhi stays the same throughout the novel. She is rebellious and does not want to conform to society. She does not undergo a character arc. Therefore, the sisters were very bland. Trung Trac had more character development. However, it was not much. Therefore, I could not connect with them emotionally, and they seemed very distant. Therefore, I was not heavily invested with the story. It took me a while to finish it, and sometimes I contemplated not finishing the book.

     Overall, this novel is about war, injustice, and sisterhood. The characters were all bland. The story was very slow moving. There are very few action scenes. The writing was simplistic and did not have any vivid imagery. However, the novel is meticulously researched and was filled with many facts about ancient Vietnam. Therefore, I wished that it was a nonfiction work on the Trung sisters rather than historical fiction. Thus, Bronze Drum has potential but is not executed well. I appreciate that there is a novel about the Trung sisters, but Mrs. Nguyen did not do them justice. Instead, I recommend you to skip this and read the more superior version of the Trung sisters by Georgina Hutchinson called Daughters of Lac. I’ll be rereading Daughters of Lac and keep my eye out for any novels about the fascinating Trung sisters in the future.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars


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