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In The Swallows Uncaged, Elizabeth McLean paints a sweeping yet intimate panorama of Vietnam in the style of a Vietnamese eight-panel screen: eight narratives that each capture a moment in time and yet speak to one another. Interweaving historical and fictional characters over ten centuries, the stories portray the passions and turmoils of successive generations of the Nguyễn clan’s wives and daughters, and of their men. When the men go away, to war or to advance their fortune, the women stay behind (not always idly or chastely). They dutifully pass down their ancestors’ traditions to their daughters and granddaughters, but also recast the iron rules to gratify their ambitions and desires. At their humble posts by the hearth, they defy authority, scheme to improve their lots, and love zestfully and wickedly. Meticulously researched and beautifully crafted, these stories form a triumphant debut from an author with a superb gift for storytelling.
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