Ever since I saw the cover for Bronze Drum: A Novel of Sisters and War by Phong Nguyen, I was intrigued. When it became a Book of the Month selection for August, I excitedly added it to my cart and dove in as soon as it arrived. Set in 40 CE in Vietnam, this novel portrays the warrior sisters who overthrew the Han Chinese and united their people.
Trưng Trắc and Trưng Nhi, daughters of a Vietnamese Lord, may be sisters, but they couldn’t be more different. While the former is disciplined and studious, the latter is carefree and volatile. But when the Han Chinese become more oppressive in their rulership over the people of Vietnam—forcing themm to obscure Vietnamese tradition in favor of Confucian rules—the sisters have no choice but to fight together for the freedom of Vietnam. They must transform into warrior leaders and win the war for their people.
Bronze Drum, in theory, should have been right up my alley. I love reading books set in different countries and times, especially if they illuminate a piece of history and culture. I also love stories that are feminist and highlight sister relationships. While Bronze Drum does deliver on those accounts, and although I’m glad I read it, it also probably wasn’t quite for me.
This is a slower paced book, and the characters are always kept at arm’s length. They each have such distinct personalities, but it never feels like the readers get into their hearts and minds enough. We see their actions, but don’t feel their emotions.
I did like how different the two sisters are. Trưng Trắc is hardworking and focused; I identified with her more, though she’s a bit cold! Trưng Nhi is more wild and unpredictable, giving into passions and rash decisions. Although they don’t seem to get along at all at first, I liked seeing them finally team up and start to understand each other.
Much of Bronze Drum is focused on the battles the Vietnamese characters (led by the sisters) fought against the Han Chinese. Admittedly, I don’t usually enjoy battle scenes or narrative around war in general. While those scenes are well-written here and easy to imagine, it wasn’t something I found especially compelling. But that’s just a personal preference.
In the end, Bronze Drum is a fascinating story of two historical figures I knew nothing about. I loved getting to know about Vietnam’s history and culture here, even if the delivery style is a tad dry for me.
Bronze Drum is an interesting novel to read if you want to learn more about Vietnamese history and enjoy books about war, sisterhood, and women empowerment.
Get the Book
You can buy Bronze Drum here – it’s available as a hardcover, paperback, ebook, and audiobook.
|Bronze Drum by Phong Nguyen|
|Number of Pages||375|
|Format I Read||Hardcover (BOTM)|
|Original Publication Date||August 9, 2022|
A stunning novel of ancient Vietnam based on the true story of two warrior sisters who raised an army of women to overthrow the Han Chinese and rule as kings over a united people, for readers of Circe and The Night Tiger.
Gather around, children of Chu Diên, and be brave.
For even to listen to the story of the Trưng Sisters is,
in these troubled times, a dangerous act.
In 40 CE, in the Lạc Việt region of ancient Vietnam, two daughters of a Vietnamese Lord fill their days training, studying, and trying to stay true to Vietnamese traditions. While Trưng Trắc is disciplined and wise, always excelling in her duty, Trưng Nhi is fierce and free spirited, more concerned with spending time in the gardens and with lovers.
But these sisters’ 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.
About the Author
Credit: Sarah Nguyen
Phong Nguyen is the author of three novels: Bronze Drum (Grand Central Publishing, 2021), Roundabout: An Improvisational Fiction (Moon City Press, 2020), and The Adventures of Joe Harper (Outpost19, 2016, winner of the Prairie Heritage Book Award); and two short fiction collections: Pages from the Textbook of Alternate History (Mastodon Publishing, 2019) and Memory Sickness and Other Stories (Elixir Press, 2011). He is the Miller Family Endowed Chair in Literature and Writing at the University of Missouri, where he teaches fiction-writing.
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