“A Hundred Suns” by Karin Tanabe

Genre:  Historical Fiction/Women’s FictionA hundred suns
Publisher:  St. Martin’s Press
Pub. Date: April 7, 2020

This historical fiction has moments of greatness. The story is set in Indochina during the late 1920s and the early 1930s. If you are a history buff, you will be delighted to know that this reviewer learned much about Indochina, the French Colony in Vietnam. Unlike any schoolbook, Tanabe makes you feel as if you are there with the ‘coolies’ during their long, impossibly hard workday.   The anti-colonialist roots of communism are captured in the abject poverty of the Vietnamese and the abundance of wealth and luxurious living conditions of the French who ruled and lived in Indochina. The author gave me the gift of detailed knowledge. Thanks to “Suns,” I finally have a better understanding of how the Martin Sheen character in “Apocalypse Now” could go from fighting in the jungles of Vietnam to having an elaborate dinner there, while being waited on by servants, with a wealthy French family who insist that Vietnam is their home.

The tale revolves around an American wife who marries a Frenchman who is a member of the Michelin dynasty. The famous family is a major part of the story. In real life, the Michelin brothers organized two Indochinese rubber plantations in 1925, where they operated until the end of the Vietnam War. The author does a thorough job regarding less known information about the Michelins. Surprisingly, at least for me, the family is painted as part of the wealthy imperialists who cannot understand the pain of the underprivileged. The quality of life for their workers read as horrendous.  Since I have always smiled at the image of “The Michelin Man,” I looked for proof of Tanabe’s descriptions.  I found them to be true.  On just one Michelin-owned plantation, 17,000 deaths were recorded in the 20 years between the two World Wars. “Suns” is written so the reader will sympathize with the communist Vietnamese. The author has the ability to make one question what you learned in school. I will never again read a “Michelin-Star Rated Restaurant Guide” without thinking of how their rubber and money was made.

Turns out, the novel is also written as a psychological thriller regarding the American wife. She has a history of mental illness. The author presents this as an “Or does she?” type of situation.  I didn’t mind this component of the novel at all. It did not interfere with the history.  I actually found it intriguing. My issue is that romance finds its way into the plot. Unfortunately, I didn’t notice that this genre is historical fiction as well as women’s fiction, something I do not usually care for. So my disappointment is on me for not carefully looking over the genre before choosing the novel.  My only strong criticism is that Tanabe did not have endnotes. True facts make historical fiction feel authentic and give the author credibility.  However, this may be due to the fact that I read an Advanced Review Copy and the citations may come once the book is published.  Still overall, I enjoyed this novel very much and recommend it.  The entire plot revolving around the history of Vietnam during those years is powerfully written.  And the thriller part is clever.  Plus, if you enjoy women’s fiction this will be a win-win book for you.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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