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If You Lived Here: A Novel Hardcover – February 27, 2007

4.2 out of 5 stars 78 customer reviews

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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.

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
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow; 1 edition (February 27, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061130486
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061130489
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (78 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,579,446 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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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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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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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I had a hard time getting into this book. When I began to read it, I kept getting confused with whom I was reading - I was frustrated and somewhat stressed with the separate, individualized chapters. I couldn't hold the characters within their own 'being' meaning that I had to keep turning back a few pages in order to recognize and understand which character I was reading. It was not until after I had finished reading 3/4 of the book that I finally became relaxed and was able to relate and understand the two main characters. I loved that both Shelley and Mai were able to find their unique friendship and thus became stronger women to seek what they truly wanted from themselves as well as from others. Their perseverance paid off when they both succeeded in finding their own ground to walk on.
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