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If You Lived Here: A Novel Paperback – March 11, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Sachs revisits in her fiction debut many of the themes she explored in A House on Dream Street, her memoir about living in Vietnam in the early 1990s. The story begins in Wilmington, N.C., where Xuan Mai has built a successful Asian grocery business in the more than 20 years since she fled Hanoi. Estranged from her family in Vietnam and reluctant to form new connections in America, Mai doesn't know what to make of Shelley Marino, an American customer who asks a lot of questions about Vietnam. It turns out that Shelley is trying to adopt a Vietnamese boy. However, Shelley's husband, Martin, who has two grown sons from a previous marriage, forces Shelley to choose between him and adopting, prompting Shelley to urge Mai to accompany her to Vietnam to complete the adoption. Once there, Mai discovers a land very different from the war-torn, impoverished country she left in the late 1970s. The novel, alternating Shelley's and Mai's narration, comes alive when the setting shifts to Vietnam, revealing the author's love for the rapidly changing country. Mai's reconciliation with her past is absorbing, Shelley's story is less so, and the adoption plot line relies too heavily on bureaucratic dysfunction for its drama. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

This first novel, which reworks the territory covered in Sachs' memoir, The House on Dream Street (2000), features dual narration by a reserved Vietnamese entrepreneur and a compassionate, efficient mortician's wife as they form an unlikely friendship. After suffering through miscarriages and infertility treatments, Shelley Marino feels that, at 42, she is running out of options. When a Vietnamese child becomes available for adoption, she is disheartened to learn that her husband, Martin, who has two sons from a previous marriage, doesn't feel he has the energy or the heart to raise another child. She turns to her new friend Xuan Mai, who fled Vietnam 23 years ago after a tragic accident left her estranged from her family. Mai agrees to accompany Shelley to Vietnam, and what they find there--a vibrant culture, a stifling bureaucracy--changes them in unforeseen ways. Sachs' earnest approach to big topics, such as the Vietnam War, often falls flat; it's the small moments--the sight of blue rice fields, the sweet taste of lychees--that are affecting. Joanne Wilkinson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Reprint edition (March 11, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061130494
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061130496
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (77 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #173,985 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By The Oxfordian on March 4, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This is a beautiful novel of love, yearning and forgiveness--it is almost incidental that it also contains a gorgeous and vivid portrait of Vietnam. If you have ever yearned for a child; if you have ever done wrong and not known how to heal the wound; if you have ever crossed the boundary into a strange, new culture--then you will recognize your experience here, rendered with passion and insight.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Allison Martin on March 13, 2007
Format: Hardcover
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.

As Director of the Families with Children adopted from Vietnam I have read and published online a number of true life adoption stories. Unlike the reviewer above, I would say that "If You Lived Here" includes very few adoption procedures. Instead, Dana Sachs captures the strong emotions created during the ups and downs of the adoption process to propel the story forward.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By P. Kennedy on March 3, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This novel is one of the few to explore the topic of foreign adoptin -- a story-line rife with dramatic potential. Sachs brilliantly shows how two women negotiate their blended identities: the Vietnamese shopkeeter who has transplanted herself in America, and the American woman who is about to mother to a Vietnamese child. Vibrating in the background is the complicated history between the two countries. A bravura performance for a first=time novelist.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A. Steckel on April 5, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The first third of this novel takes place in North Carolina and is a pleasure to read. It introduces some interesting people, starts engaging plots, and is occasionally quite funny. The rest of the novel takes place in Vietnam and is simply and absolutely wonderful. Partly, I got more invested in the characters and the delightful turns of their intertwined stories. But equally important are the off-hand descriptions of Vietnamese culture that make everything so vivid. I actually hoped for traffic on my bus-ride home so I could read a little more.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By E. A. Bobst on March 13, 2007
Format: Hardcover
In Dana Sach's novel "If You Lived Here", families are built, shattered and rebuilt. Set partly in Wilmington, NC, Shelley Marino marries an older man, Martin, who is raising his two sons. Shelley becomes an integral part of his work and family life. After struggling with infertility, Shelley is offered the opportunity to adopt a Vietnamese boy. Her heart draws her to the child and to Vietnam, while her husband discovers he is unable to travel the physical or emotional road to adoption with her.
Shelley finds a travel companion in Xuan Mai, a Vietnamese woman living and running a grocery in Wilmington. Mai finds the courage to journey back to Vietnam after an absence of more than twenty years, to help Shelly with the adoption but also to heal her own wounds with her family and her country.
Sachs accurately portrays the emotional trials of the adoption process and of becoming a family in a nontraditional way. She layers that story with Mai's struggle to come to the point in her life where she can ask forgiveness from her family and return home again. Sachs' descriptions of Vietnam are vivid and her love for the culture is obvious. Vietnam's struggle to evolve as a country is as riveting a story as Shelley's or Mai's.
Sachs has written a story of culture and family and finding a place in those contexts. She is a fluid story teller and warmly welcomes her readers into the worlds she has created.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Marsha Hart on April 6, 2008
Format: Paperback
If You Lived Here: A Novel
I was drawn to Dana Sachs' novel "If You Lived Here" because one of its settings is Wilmington, North Carolina, where my son lives. But the moment I picked up this wonderful book and started to read, I felt myself gently guided into a world much more complex than any locale. The two main characters, Shelley Marino, a mortician's wife who desperately longs for a child, and Mai, a Vietnamese entrepreneur who owns an Asian grocery in Wilmington and who fled Vietnam and carried a desperate secret with her, have become as real to me as my own family.
Both of these women and the other characters who people this novel walk off the pages and stand before me in flesh and blood. And the story Ms. Sachs tells exposes their hearts in a way that very few books ever have for me. And I am an avid reader who, at the age of 60, has a hard time finding anything new under the sun! Today, it takes a very rare and exceptional book to move me. Ms. Sachs is a wordsmith beyond compare. Not only did I love the path she carved for me, but I found myself savoring the way she used words to exactly tap and reveal her character's souls.
Shelley and Mai are two very strong women who, despite different cultures, forge a wonderful friendship which carries them both on a journey to Vietnam and on a journey of healing and discovery. I simply opened my own heart to them and, while reading their story, I felt suspended from my own life. That is how compelling this book is.
I also received a special bonus while immersed in this story. I am old enough to have lived through the years of our war with Vietnam, and I had a front row seat to its horrors on television newscasts.
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