by Diana Hockley
Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win an EBOOK copy of Pushing Water. We also have a link to order it from Amazon.
I am starting this review with a statement—this book is a masterpiece!
Like many people, I had no idea of the politics of French Colonial Vietnam as the Second World War was about to start. Margaret Mendel’s book gives a clearly written description of the events, cloaked in a riveting fictional account of the happenings in Saigon in 1939.
Sarah, an ex-pat and archivist at the Government Library Archives, arrives for work one morning to find a co-worker and translator murdered by garotte. Sarah is determined to discover the perpetrator and in consequence, through the machinations of her lover, Albee and other friends, is soon swimming in the dangerous water of rebellion. Albee, who comes and goes in her life, lives on the edge with ties to the groups who are trying to escape the clutch of the French Colonial government. It is not long before another activist is murdered and subsequently, a girl to whom Sarah is close is arrested.
Julia, a photo-journalist and American friend of many years, arrives in Saigon with a “tall-story” about discovering the rumored whereabouts of the American aviator, Amelia Earhart, but in reality trying to find out what is happening politically. Toughened by the Spanish Civil War and other skirmishes, Julia is unprepared for the danger inherent in Vietnam and the heat and humidity. Initially, unwilling to join in the fight, Julia takes the opportunity to head to the mountain with the guerillas.
As if it wasn’t enough to be under the hand of the French, as war approaches Europe, the Japanese have invaded China and are increasingly demanding of information from the French in Vietnam, including maps from the Archives which Sarah is carefully hiding amongst the tons of documents which arrive at the Archives from outlying provinces. The Archive roof leaks are poorly patched from the previous season, and Sarah and her team are hard put to store the documents safely before the rains arrive again.
How Sarah not only manages to cope with her mad landlady and the Chief Archivist’s alcoholic wife, as well as the murder of several friends, and discovers the identity of the original killer, is a wonderful journey into history. The characters spring to life so effortlessly, that this reader felt as though she was living there in that time. I felt their fear, their sorrow and their struggles, not the least of which was the climate, itself an integral part of the action.
As Sarah becomes actively involved in the struggle for freedom and the locals fear of Japanese encroachment, I had to force myself to slow my reading pace, in order not to miss a smidgeon of this amazing book.
What I particularly liked about Pushing Water, was the easy style, the fascinating and well-researched history, and incredible sense of dread which pervaded every line in the story. The description of life in Vietnam pre-war is interwoven so easily into the story, that it is a delight to read.
Highly recommended, Pushing Water is a masterpiece of historical and cultural research and a thoroughly entertaining book.
To enter to win an EBOOK copy of Pushing Water, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “water,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen March 4, 2017. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.
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