Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on February 10th 2015
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Born in the middle of the Vietnam War and left in her mother’s grave, Rabbit can hear the voices and stories of the dead. Though she grows up after the height of the fighting, she comes to find her country has been plagued with violence and war for decades. Through the stories of her ancestors, Rabbit must learn to come to terms with Vietnam’s past, her ability to see it, and her place in its future.
Though the book is guided maps and family trees, I found the first few sections of She Weeps Each Time You’re Born difficult to navigate. However, Rabbit’s birth creates a center for the novel, both as a marker for time and a connection between characters. While the chronology continues to shift, it does so around Rabbit’s visions, which become the highlights of the story.
“Perhaps we are the reason she didn’t utter a single word for so long. The truth is, during those first years of total silence, people hardly noticed. Why talk to the living when she had us? And if they had noticed her lack of speech, if they had wondered, what would they have seen? The way at dusk this baby girl would sometimes look at empty air, nothing there at all, and begin to weep?”
From French colonization, through the Vietnam War and into the present, Rabbit is able to see Vietnam’s history through the stories of the dead. Though they are often told with little background, which may leave readers with no prior knowledge feeling slightly lost, the tales shed fascinating light on shifting power dynamics within the country while holding strong to the novel’s humanity.
Barry works magical realism into the story in a way that seems to fit effortlessly with the rest of the narrative. Though the elements, like Rabbit’s gift and Qui’s ability to nurse throughout her long life, are noticeably fantastical they feel like a natural way to propel the story forward. Quan Barry has found a masterfully unique way to blend history, culture and bits of magic in She Weeps Each Time You’re Born.