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If You Lived Here

A Novel

By Dana Sachs

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Review by Allison Martin

Here is a real treat for anyone interested in Vietnam adoption - a well crafted, colorful novel in which the adoption of an infant boy plays a pivotal role. Ten years in the making, "If You Lived Here" by Dana Sachs is the gripping and lyrical story of the healing friendship between two very different women who travel together to Vietnam, assisting one another on their personal quests. One of the women, Xuan Mai, is a single Vietnamese-American who impulsively fled her family and a poverty-stricken Vietnam 23 years ago under the impetus of an almost unbearable tragedy. The other woman, Shelly, is a married white American from North Carolina who finds herself captivated by Vietnam when her desire for a child leads there, also under very difficult circumstances. The novel twists and turns its way through their uncertain adventure, with fascinating vignettes exposing their characters and emotional experiences. Together the two women, transformed by their individual (yet shared) dramatic journeys to their families, come to their own peace in Vietnam.

In an enriching juxtaposition, the heartwarming story of these two women is interwoven with a lyrical depiction of their two shared countries, northern Vietnam and southern United States. Dana Sachs is a noted author, translator and authority on Vietnamese literature and here, as in many of her books, Vietnam itself becomes a central character. Hanoi seeps through the novel in crystal clear description and riveting poetic narratives, till readers find themselves immersed in this vibrant, many faceted city.

Dana Sach's ability to reveal the emotions and thoughts of a diverse group of characters is one of the many joys of her novel. Although not an adoptive parent herself, Dana Sachs captures the deep longing to have a child, as well as the strong emotions created during the ups and downs of the adoption process. These emotional experiences will resonate with families created by more traditional methods, while parents experienced in adoption may recognize themselves in her depictions.

"If You Lived Here" is a dramatic work of art that will be enjoyed for many years. I recommend this book not only to adoptive parents or readers interested in Vietnam, but to anyone who enjoys a great story.

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