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Book Review: The Lake Pagoda – Ann Bennett

A vibrant look into the life of a half-French, half-Vietnamese girl caught in the political realities of French Indochina on the eve of WWII.

Generally, I avoid World War I and II-era novels because I feel they’ve fallen into a predictable pattern of a female protagonist falling in love with a male soldier on the battlefields of Europe, the climax being one or the other thinking the other has been killed, then they live happily ever after at the end. It’s not just that the general plot beats are the same, the setting is as well, making the novels sort of blend together in my mind as it’s hard to differentiate them from one another.

Author Ann Bennett avoids this by setting the majority of her novel towards the end of World War II, within the lush tropical landscape of Indochina, known now as Vietnam. Young Arielle, the daughter of a French father and Vietnamese mother, grows up relatively well off within the French Quarter of Hanoi. Her mother has passed away, but her father is a government official and they lead a fairly prosperous life. When a rich French businessman named Etienne comes courting, Arielle is surprised but agrees to marry him. From then on, she finds herself drawn into the cultural resistance formed by the Viet Mihn, and her life veers down paths she never could have imagined.

Unlike other novels I have read where an author creates a multicultural protagonist in turbulent times and then calls it a day, the multicultural aspect totally ignored, Bennett pays attention to the French/Vietnamese cultural connotations Arielle is forced to deal with. While she can physically pass as fully Vietnamese, her father is an important French official, so most of the people in her town and other important officials are fully aware of her half-French heritage. As both the invading Japanese and the rebel Viet Mihn factions are anti-French for various reasons, Arielle struggles to maintain connections to her French father while hiding that side of herself. This take was immensely refreshing in a genre bloated with fully European World War II stories and gave it a unique feel that I absolutely loved. Bennett is talented at descriptions as well, bringing to life the vibrant colors, sights, and smells of Vietnam so much that I could almost taste the tea and smell the pho bubbling in the pots of street vendors.

I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a fresh take on stories set in the World War II era.

Disclaimer: I received an ARC from NetGalley for free and read it on my 10th Generation Kindle Oasis. I was not paid for this review, and all opinions are my own. This review was originally published on NetGalley. The original review is here.

Title: The Lake Pagoda
Author: Ann Bennett
Publication Date: 26 April 2022
Print Length: 311 pages
Marie’s Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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