BRONZE DRUM – Phong Nguyen

“Gather around, children of Chu Diên, and be brave.  For even to listen to the story of the Tru’ng Sisters is, in these troubled times, a dangerous act.”

The bones of Phong Nguyen’s Bronze Drum (Grand Central Publishing 2022) were exhilarating; it was an easy BOTM pick for me.  Historical fiction, cloaked in myth and lore, of two sisters in 40 CE ancient Việt Nam, who sparked a revolution – an army of women who rose up against the Hán Chinese in a battle for independence – the bronze drum, the sound of their battle cry and the symbol of their victory, that was banned following their fall.  I was so excited to start this one, and I tried so hard to like it.  But I’m going to need someone else to give the Tru’ng Sisters a voice; this was poorly executed, and the sisters, the glorious She-Kings, were poorly developed.  The novel cannot decide what it wants to be and not settling down one path, ends up clumsy and frustrating.  (There’s also a typo where “battle” is spelled “batttle,” and it’s driving me bonkers.)

I am grateful this novel introduced me to the Tru’ng Sisters and their army of women, including the badass archers from the mountains.  The image of the sisters riding into battle on elephants while bronze drums are played to alert the soldiers as to formation and attack strategy is extremely powerful.  The women joining forces to kill the tiger that has ravaged their village for years and writing their declaration on its hide is the kind of scene that will stick with the reader long after the last page.  But these powerful moments are very rare, and the novel doesn’t breathe with the beat of the drum or the heartbeat of the women who fought so hard.

The sisters deserved better.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: