Thursday, October 30, 2014

A Literary Romantic, Historical Adventure Set in Vietnam, The Reach of the Banyan Tree, by Mark W. Sasse

July 16, 1945
Tonight I sat under the grand expanse of a
banyan tree. I have never seen anything so majestic--
a window to the past. My translator, Mai, told me
that a banyan tree sees all, knows all, and keeps
many secrets. It knew a time before the French
came to Indochina. It knew a time of peace and a
time of freedom. Its reach never stops; it just
keeps growing and expanding regardless of
circumstances, regardless of difficulties. That
is, perhaps, what I admire most about the Viet
Minh. They have a feeling of destiny. That time
is on their side. That in the end, everything will
work out in their favor, and the grant banyan
tree, with its thirty-foot expanse, will once again
sense order restored to the universe.

"This banyan tree is many centuries old. It stands a sacred test of time to all who live in Tan Trao, not just because of its beauty and majesty. It is a symbol of life coming from death. You will see that there are many root structures that come out of the ground to form this grand tree. But what you cannot see is the original tree, buried in the middle, long covered over by the other branches which have come later. In fact, the middle of this tree is dead. It died long ago, but it is never forgotten. The newer roots have covered it over, taking their place in the order of nature, so the tree itself can grow out stronger and reach further than the original roots ever could have imagined. These branches have witnessed much. They were half as long when Quang Trung squashed the Chinese invaders in the eighteenth century. But the branches never forget where they came from. This is the land of Vietnam. The land of our ancestors. And now we are each part of this tree, part of our history, and we are here to fulfill our destiny. Like Tran Hung Dao and Ngo Quyen before us, we will stand firm with out roots, firm with our ancestors, and we will defeat the foreign invaders. We will bring freedom to our country."
A roar let out amongst the soldiers sitting around, listening to the rousing speech, one that Vinh had long rehearsed after hearing such philosophical rhetoric his whole life from his anti-French father. The Deer Team marveled at his speech and passion, and Charles stood up and shook Vinh's hand in admiration. It was easy for the Americans to see that the Allies had a powerful friend in the passionate troops who fought for their country against the Japanese.

OSS Deer Team members pose with Viet Minh leaders Ho Chi Minh and Vo Nguyen Giap during training at Tan Trao in August 1945. Deer Team members standing, l to r, are Rene Defourneaux, (Ho), Allison Thomas, (Giap), Henry Prunier and Paul Hoagland, far right. Kneeling, left, are Lawrence Vogt and Aaron Squires. (Rene Defourneaux)

The Reach 

of the Banyan Tree

By Mark W. Sasse

Based on actual events in 1945, Mark Sasse has created one of the most lovely love stories I've ever read. While there is no connection to the group of men who traveled to Tan Trao, a family drama has emerged that began with the grandfather who went to train soldiers in 1945, through the son who fought in the Vietnam war, and on to the grandson... It could have been fate that could create such a story. Instead we thank an author who has given the world another look at a country we have most associated with the last war there... It gives us another glimpse at the people and the beauty of the land and the search for freedom for people who had none for so many, many years... I am thankful I had the chance to read it and totally recommend it to all...

I love this beautiful cover. For quite some time, I used my oriental collection as the decor in my bedroom. Somehow that didn't seem to fit when I came to live in a log cabin, but there are still selected pieces on display to celebrate such beauty as comes from these countries...

While this story centers on three American men, the setting reflects the orient. Long before 1945, there has been struggle after struggle to gain freedom from one country or another. In 1945, the French and Japanese were fighting to gain control.

The resistance had already begun and it is there that we begin the story when a young man had volunteered to travel on dangerous mountain roads during a heavy storm to bring back a shipment of guns that will be used for the training that is about to begin when the Americans arrive.

But the young man never returned...

The story then shifts to the year 2000 when we meet the grandson. He is in prison. He has accidentally killed a young boy who had run in front of his motorbike. This was bad enough...but the boy was the brother of Thuy, with whom he has finally gained acceptance from her family to marry...

While he is there, a man comes into his cell and gives him a journal that belonged to his grandfather...Then readers go back to the beginning... as Chip learns about his grandfather's time there in Tan Trao...

Chip Carson, the grandson, had always been close to his grandfather, while having a troubled relationship with his father. His father is very wealthy, but Chip refused to join his company and instead moved to Tonkin where he'd been working...

 July 2000 - Thai Nguyen, northern Vietnam

This part of the Vietnamese country side has witnessed little change through the centuries. The crooked-backed peasants face another daunting day every time the sun slips over the eastern ridge, greeting them with stoic reminders of the paddies which need rending. The giddy, shirtless, barefoot boys still ride the water buffaloes out through the paddy ridges to find slivers of green grazing that will keep the beasts contented until the next time they are needed to plow-under the sun-bakes soil, readying the field for another planting. The dawn illuminates a village, which awakens like a colony of ants, miles to go to feed themselves for another day. The crows overhead witness the ants, scurrying out from underneath the palms which shield the single-story cement dwellings from the relentless afternoon sun. The busy-bodies hunker down in the fields, women side by side with sisters and aunts, neighbors and cousins, donning the cone-like, pointed straw hats, which protect their faces from darkening in the heat of the day. The dainty hands, each with a single stock of rice seedling no more than six inches tall, skillfully push the heroic staple into the mud until it settls in the place where it will thrive and grow, giving the planters their rewarded survival. They owe their lives to the blessed crop which gives them sustenance, they owe their age to the cursed crop, which robs them of years and sentences them to curved backs and ridged, hard skin. This is the land of their ancestors, a canvas of paint so vivid, so real, so far removed from the toil of the modern masses. These people have become one with the land, one with time, one with each other as they etch out a noble existence for which two thousands years of Vietnamese history owes them much.

 In the midst of a region which had witnessed little of time's changes, perhaps it seemed odd to the few boys and peasants close enough to the only paved road in miles to see a white faced rider on a motorbike, whipping through the open plains, a Vietnamese girl at his back with wind-tied hair waving furiously, creating an arrow which pointed back towards their direction of origin. They laughed and smiled, waving at the boys, whose grins lit up as they stood at attention and yelled the familiar, "Alo, Alo!"

The motorbike passed the occasional truck coming from the Chinese border two hours ahead. They had been on the road for about an hour when Thuy gently tapped Chip on the shoulder and told him to pull down the next small dirt road, which led to a long, one story cement dwelling with a faded sign over the open, barred window which read "Di Tich Lich Su Hang Phuong Hoang." Chip stopped the bike beside the house and turned off the key in the ignition. It had been the only sound around except for the gentle breeze, which tingled the trees with its morning freshness. Thuy jumped off the back and went over to an elderly man sitting on a stool outside the house directly under the sign. She chatted quickly to him in Vietnamese, and he pointed back over his head towards the large mountain which lay directly in the background...


 "Where is the cave?"
"It's way up there, out of sight," Thuy said as she pointed towards the unspecified destination.
"Are you sure this is a good idea?"
"Yes. You won't regret it," Thuy replied, looking up at Chip with a playful smile.
"It looks painful."
"All worthwhile things are."

"Chip, you don't--"
"No, wait. Let me do this right."
He slid down the front to the rock and stood right in front of her so her legs went under each of his arms. She reached out and put her arms around his neck, clasping her hands in the back...
"Thuy... "You have changed me. When I came to Vietnam, I didn't know what I was doing. I guess I was trying to figure out who I really was. I have never met anyone like you, and I know it sounds cliched and all of that. But it's true. I have been thinking a lot lately about my life and what I want out of my life, and I realized that there is only one thing I want. You. What I'm trying to say to you is...
He hesitated again. Thuy's eyes overflowed with tears, but she didn't care to wipe them away.
"Will you marry me?"

So it was on a fateful day in July that Chip both proposed to Thuy, but also learned, in visiting a special location within the cave, that his grandfather had also visited there! Thuy had not answered Chip that day because of her family commitments. She loved Chip, but her father was an alcoholic and she wasn't sure that he would be willing for her to marry. And he wasn't. Until Chip, growing desperate, admitted that he was very rich and immediately was accepted as a future son-in-law...

But that was when his son, who was the important member of the family, was still alive. When he died, his father swore vengeance... Thuy knew she would have to forget Chip, especially with the whole community up in arms about his loss.

It was then that a close friend of his grandfather had delivered his journal to the jail and Chip was able to learn about his time while living there. The important thing he learned though was that his grandfather had also fallen in love with a girl named Mai. But the journal ended... All Chip knew was that his grandfather had returned and married his grandmother... Would the same fate await him--that he'd never marry Thuy? And, of course, he could also be killed because of his crime!

Readers will be first caught up in the relationship between Mai and Chip's grandfather. Another individual plays a very important part--he is a young boy, just 14, who was there to help the soldiers as they prepared for battle. When the men dropped by parachute, Long was there to help Charles Carson and quickly looked upon him as a hero... In fact, Long was there as he watched Mai and Charles fall in love and when they went to look for Long's brother and the guns that were needed. Nobody knew what dangers they would face during that trip!

Sooo, Charles Carson had fallen in love with Mai, but had left and gone home to marry his former girlfriend. His son, Chip's father, was the owner and CEO of Carson Oil Subsidiary... who had now heard his son was in jail!

Have you ever heard that money talks? Well, in this case, while Chip was in jail, his father and staff were on their way in a private jet to get him out... His leverage? His company was in the process of a $4billion project in the area... And if he didn't get what he wanted, he wouldn't go through with the project... I admit I don't like the power of money, but, in this case, it was a very necessary part of getting Chip out of prison and the country...well, almost...

Because Chip wasn't going to leave without seeing Thuy once again...

Got to tell you that this is the first romance that has ever put me on the edge of my seat! Chip's insistence on going back...Wow! The climax of the story is quite worthy of all that had happened before. The culmination of an epic story that once again brings the three generations of men into the intimacy of a close family! Don't miss this one!

"Comparison is the thief of joy." --Theodore Roosevelt

Mark W Sasse's third novel, "The Reach of the Banyan Tree", is an epic look at the familial and cultural ties of modern day Vietnam through the eyes of three generations of American men who fought and loved there. Part contemporary love story, part historical fiction, "The Reach of the Banyan Tree spans two eras of time to give the reader a unique adventure of love and loss.
Mark W Sasse was born in Western Pennsylvania, but has spent nearly two decades living, teaching, and writing overseas in Vietnam and Malaysia. He has advanced degrees in Humanities and English. His first novel, "Beauty Rising", released in December 2012 which was followed by "The Recluse Storyteller" in October 2013.
Sasse has produced a variety of dramatic works such as "Grandparents' War", "Life with Stewart", "Spy Blue", "Take Two" & "Romans on the Couch." His works are known for unique and unpredictable plot-lines, strong characters, and thought-provoking dialogue. He also writes and directs for the drama troupe The RLT Players. He won the award for "Best Script" in 2013 Penang Short & Sweet Festival for his script "No In Spite of Itself." His short play "Drive All Nigiht" won the Audience Choice award at the 2012 Penang Short & Sweet Festival.
Sasse is an avid blogger, writing about life, drama, history, cultural, and writing. (

1 comment:

  1. Muy buenas,estas historias de estos arboles,q mucha gente ignora y no los conoce,
    En colombiano,hay variedades de esas higueras silvestres, q llaman higuerones, matapalos,etc.
    Existen historias,sobre esos árboles, incluso negativas(sobre todo, en los llanos orientales de colombia,donde son supersticiosos,con mucha leyenda y tradición .