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10:11 PMThe Tapestries
'A mesmerising tale of love and honour, horrors and cruelty, magic and mystery'-Washington Times |
Kien Nguyen was born in Nhatrang, South Vietnam, in 1967 to a Vietnamese mother and an American father. He left Vietnam in 1985 through the United Nations' Orderly Departure Program. After spending time in a refugee camp in the Philipines, Nguyen arrived in the United States. His first book, The Unwanted, is a memoir about his childhood in Vietnam.
In this stunning novel based loosely on the life of the author's grandfather, an embroiderer in the court of the last king of Vietnam in the early 1900s, Kien Nguyen reimagines his grandfather's amazing story to weave a tapestry of his own.
Dan Nguyen is seven years old when he marries a woman twenty years his senior. More mother than wife, Ven takes care of Dan until the day he leaves his childhood for ever - when he witnesses his father's brutal beheading at the hands of the power-hungry mayor. In order to protect Dan he is old enough to defend his father's honour, Ven hides him as a servant in the house of the enemy, where he falls in love with the one person he can never have - the mayor's beautiful granddaughter Tai May. Dan's journey from child to slave to embroiderer in the royal court, where he has the chance to win Tai May's heart, is a story of spellbinding drama, intrigue and an unforgettable love affair.
HUE CITY, JANUARY 1916
During the winter months, the Perfume River was chilly, especially at dawn. The morning of Dan Nguyen's first wedding was no exception. While the sun was still hidden, its early rays reached from behind the Ngu Binh Mountain, stretching pale-yellow fingers over the sky. Thin clouds wafted by, and the wind whipped up whirlpools of mist. Damp tendrils drifted over the jungle of oak trees that climbed the steep mountainside and were lost against the horizon.
Along the side of the river, a strip of land still lay in darkness. From afar, it looked like the back of a crocodile floating in the river. A few hundred feet away, a sampan moved slowly upstream. Both sides of the boat were painted with red resin from the lacquer tree and highlighted with gold trim in large rectangular patterns - the design reserved for weddings.
At the vessel's stern, a white-haired man with stooped shoulders sat on the floor. His gnarled hands clenched an oar, and he leaned heavily into its strokes. The man seemed lost in his own world. His eyes, hidden beneath the rim of a torn conical hat, focused on the water. The faded blue peasant shirt on his back was tattered, exposing his bony ribs. Next to him hung a red lantern that illuminated a short stretch of river ahead. The faint sound of the oar moving the water echoed against the silence.
Behind the old man, in the center of the sampan, was a small cabin with a roof built of red-lacquered bamboo stalks lashed together with palm fronds. Across its entrance hung a pink silk screen on which a canary-yellow dragon entwined with its feminine mate, an equally gracious phoenix. Custom dictated that the bride must be concealed from sight. She sat behind the silk barrier, careful not to make a sound while the boat rocked to the helmsman's gentle rhythm.
Just as the sun appeared from behind the purple mountain, the old man guided his bridal sampan toward land. Sunlight broke through the clouds into thousands of tiny golden pennies. The old man squinted, searching the shoreline for a place for dock. He did not have to look far.
Just ahead, where the ground extended into the water to form a long, narrow wharf, twenty people from the groom's family stood in a single file. Most of them wore the ao dai, the ceremonial garb reserved for festivities such as this. The costumes were similar for both men and women: a tunic, made out of silk or satin, with a long skirt separated at the waist into two panels, front and back. The men wore their robes over white pants, while the women wore theirs over black - a more subservient color.
The wedding party had prepared the landing site by hanging strings of firecrackers over the branches of the tamarind trees. Upon the arrival of the sampan, the oldest men began the ceremony by burning purified joss sticks. Then they ignited the firecrackers. The red, petal-like missiles burst into the morning air, stirring flocks of sparrows from their sleep. They flapped their gray wings among the dark branches, adding their screeches to the din. The deafening sound of the explosives was believed to banish evil spirits as the groom's family prepared to accept their new daughter-in-law.
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