A war bubbles at the core of The Fortunes of Jaded Women, but perhaps not the one you’d expect. Rather than retreading the conflict that has been the focus of most Vietnam-centric literature for the past 70 years, Vietnamese American author Carolyn Huynh offers up a refreshingly buoyant and irreverent debut novel about a fiery group of estranged mothers and daughters.
Ever since their ancestor Oanh left her husband for another man, the Duong women have been cursed to be unlucky in love and only give birth to daughters. Oanh’s current living relatives are therefore able to find professional success but never lasting love. Despite all living in Orange County, California, sisters Mai, Minh and Khuy n haven’t spoken to one another—or to their mother—for the last 10 years. The sisters’ relationships with their own daughters are hardly any better.
All this changes when Mai visits her trusted psychic adviser in Hawaii and is rocked by the revelation that this will be the year her family experiences a marriage, a funeral and the birth of a son. But Mai is warned that if she isn’t careful, it will also be the year she loses everything. The Fortunes of Jaded Women chronicles the riotous year that ensues as the fractious and feisty Duong women finally reconnect, heal their wounds and forge a new future as a family.
Celebrating Vietnamese culture and community, The Fortunes of Jaded Women is a delight that rises above mere frothy literary confection. The sprinkling of fantastical elements and abundance of sisterly squabbles and scandals keep things juicy and bring plenty of laughs, but the characters are the real stars of the show. Each woman is joyfully rendered and fully developed, offering a welcome contrast to cliched depictions of meek and docile Asian women, and a powerful subversion of monolithic depictions of a people who have for too long been solely defined by tragedy.
The Duong women have fire in their bellies, desire in their hearts and the grit needed to overcome any obstacle. The Fortunes of Jaded Women will certainly appeal to fans of over-the-top excess a la Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians, but readers who love rich explorations of thorny mother-daughter relationships and the ways we weather trauma and grief will also find much to enjoy.