Page 2 of 6

Snow in the Province of Ho Chi Minh’s Birth!

I saw this article yesterday and I was shocked: snow in Nghe An province in northern Vietnam. Nghe An is about 300 km south of Hanoi – and it has never even snowed in Hanoi!

I lived in and around Hanoi for many years, and we certainly had our cold periods each year – especially living in porous houses without heat. Trust me, it was cold!

See the snow!

I remember several Christmases we had when the temperature would dip to 10 C, and we would be huddled together with the biggest, thickest quilts you’ve ever seen. It felt like we were freezing, but of course, we were still 10 degrees away from freezing.

It’s not completely uncommon for Vietnam to get snow. The mountainous region of Sapa (where are my photos?) gets a dusting or so every couple of years. One year when we were still living in VN, the border town Lang Son got some snow up in the northeast region by China.

But Nghe An? What? That’s unheard of.

Nghe An is best known as the birthplace of Ho Chi Minh, being born to meagre means back in 1890 – the same year my grandmother was born. (I don’t think they knew each other. Went to different school systems.)

I’m sure Ho Chi Minh (born Nguyen Tat Thanh) never saw snow until he moved to Boston by freighter. (Yes, he spent some time as a waiter in Boston at a hotel, strange as that may sound.)

It really makes me want to dust off my old photos and post away about all my Vietnam travels. What great times they were!

Just imagine all those great folks in Nghe An who are enjoying (or possibly not enjoying) the white stuff for the first time. A monumental day for sure.

A Jaunt into Philosphy 3: Absolutism vs. Relativism

Here’s my third attempt at philosophy. This one on absolutism vs. relativism.

Can it be determined that some actions are right and other actions wrong?  Can one culture’s traditions be morally inferior to that of another?  For example, a western person may look on in strange curiosity when a Vietnamese family gets together to celebrate the ngay gio or death anniversary of a loved one.  At the same time, a Vietnamese may wonder why an American makes such a fuss about their child’s birthday.  Is one better than the other?  Are they equally valid due to different cultural upbringings? Are they both actually pointing out the same moral principals in just different ways?

Relativism and absolutism are terms used by philosophers when discussing morality and society.  Relativism is described as each society having its’ own set of principles based on their culture and beliefs.  As the example in the previous paragraph shows, it is easy to see that different societies value different moral practices.  This is called social relativism. Ethical relativism builds on this principle by stating that any society’s ultimate moral principle is as valid as any other society’s principle (Burr and Goldinger 180-181).  This sets up a crucial conflict between ethical relativism and ethical absolutism which states that there is only one correct ultimate principle or set of principles.  This philosophical conflict has many ramifications in how someone might view abortion, punishment, education or the environment

In the modern world, the buzzword democracy emanates loudly throughout the world.  Leaders claim that democracy is every country’s destiny and possibly even their divine right.  Philosophers look at state and society and try to ask the big questions about the nature of democracy and its underlying political philosophy. They wonder about claims of one form of government being morally superior to that of another (Burr and Goldinger 269).  For example, in the often used statement “…with liberty and justice for all”, a philosopher might try to define liberty.  Can it mean different things to different people?  Can there be limits to liberty?  Why?  What is justice and can it really apply to everyone equally?

All of these questions lead to many very important issues which are discussed and debated every day.  Can there be true justice when some people are rich and others are poor?  Some say that an equal and just society should provide equal opportunity for everyone to succeed.  Others would take it a step further and say that equality of outcome is what is needed.  Everyone actually needs to be the same intellectually and materially for there to be true equality. When looking at the world, Nagel wonders if anything can and/or should be done about the tremendous economic disparity between the very poor and very rich nations (79).  The questions framed by philosophers are profound and difficult, but the practical application of the suggested answers to these questions result in very real consequences to our global community.

Moving Beyond Vietnam

There were three specific items which led me to be an indie author.

1) A desire to be creative.

2) My introduction to drama.

3) My ten years living in Vietnam.

I have always wanted to create. I remember writing songs and plays as as teenager, just trying to find an outlet for what was going on in my mind. In college it was poetry that caught my fancy, and I wrote lots of various genres of poetry as an outlet. After that, I wrote various plays and small production in my church. I’ve always wanted to create and write, but I went for twenty years not doing much of it.

Drama. Drama changed everything for me. Once I had an opportunity to write drama with some of my students, it started this drama-like epoch which still hasn’t finished. I love writing dialogue and creating scenarios where extraordinary things happen. I’ve been writing drama for eight years now, and there’s no end in sight.

Lastly, my ten years in Vietnam expanded my horizons beyond that of any normal Western PA native. I learned a language, I learned a new culture, and I was constantly overwhelmed by the sights, sounds, and smells of the amazing country of Vietnam. My time in Vietnam led me to my passion for history and an understanding of what really happened here, both before and after and Americans landed.

So in 2007 when all three of these (creativity, drama, experiences in Vietnam) all came together, I was once and for all hooked on writing. Since then I’ve written more than a dozen full-length dramatic productions and four novels. (The fifth almost there!)

All of these led me to become an indie author in December of 2012.

Since then, I’ve released three novels (the fourth just weeks away) and all of them somewhat based on my experiences in Vietnam.

How couldn’t that affect me? It was such an important and profound experience for me that as soon as I left Vietnam, I was ready to process it through my writing, which I did with “Beauty Rising,” “The Recluse Storyteller,” and “The Reach of the Banyan Tree”: my first three novels.

I needed Vietnam. I needed it to provide the context, history, and inspiration for my writing

But no more.

I’ve moved beyond Vietnam. My new novel doesn’t even mention Vietnam. SHOCKING!

Vietnam was my original inspiration, but now I am burdened with an endless supply of internal inspiration, which I hope I have time to release!

With my fourth novel, I realize I have moved beyond Vietnam. It’s a crutch I no longer need.

That doesn’t mean I  won’t revisit Vietnam anymore in my writing. I already have a political thriller based on Vietnam that I want to write.

But I no longer rely on Vietnam. I am beyond Vietnam, and that’s a wonderful feeling.

Vietnam, thanks for the inspiration. But I can take it from here.

KINDLE SALE! “The Reach of the Banyan Tree” Novel only 99 Cents! Limited Time!

With my fourth and new novel set to release on July 3, I’m offering all kinds of deals on my previous novels, starting with “The Reach of the Banyan Tree” for only $0.99 cents – June 17 – June 24 ONLY!

Part romance, part historical fiction, 100% gripping and emotional!

And readers agree. 4.8 STARS on 24 reviews on Amazon.

Pick yourself up a super cheap copy and read some reviews while you’re at it.

BOOK SALE HERE!   Thanks for your support.

Here’s the storyline:

Chip Carson intended to marry a young Vietnamese woman until a tragic accident lands him in prison, forever altering the outlook of their relationship. As he struggles to cope with his strained love, a mysterious stranger appears bearing a journal about Chip’s grandfather who parachuted into French Indochina at the end of World War II. As the words in the journal reveal a life that Chip never knew, he begins to understand the depth of love and sacrifice needed in order to have a second chance at love.

Part historical fiction, part contemporary love story, The Reach of the Banyan Tree is an adventure spanning two eras. It explores the effects of war, love, culture, and family obligation in twentieth century Vietnam through the eyes of three generations of American men, who each lost their soul in the tangled reaches of the banyan tree.

It's  in paperback too!
It’s in paperback too!

Exclusive Excerpt: “The Reach of the Banyan Tree” – only 99 cents for a limited time!

I’m happy to offer another exclusive excerpt from my latest novel. This is an excerpt from a chapter called “Discovery.” OSS operative, Charles, has been tracking down the driver of a lost lorry deep in the countryside of Tonkin, French Indochina in the waning moments of WWII. He and his three Viet Minh companions arrive at a village and unearth a terrifying discovery.

If you enjoy the excerpt, please hit the link and download the rest. Only 99 cents on Kindle through March 2.

*************************************************************************************************

Discovery

As the sun began to shake itself awake from the east, Vinh shook Charles out of a deep sleep.

“Ahhh,” he jerked himself vertically, opening his eyes to his trio of companions standing over him.

“Vinh says we must go. We have a long walk to his grandmother’s house. Perhaps we will find Dinh-Hoa there.”

“Alo Cha Le,” said Long with that familiar gusto, seemingly unaffected by last evening’s events.

Charles shook his head back and forth, trying to grasp the short night on his consciousness. He had no more than two hours of sleep.

“Alright. Let’s go.”

Vinh knew his grandparent’s house was the next logical location to go to. At least they could trek back with some oxen and possibly get the truck moving by the morrow. Vinh decided to take the valley route which was twice as long but would give them a chance of finding a vehicle to help them out of their muddy predicament. They traveled up the road for about twenty minutes until they veered off into some rice paddies and cut up over a small hill into one far-flung valley of north eastern Bac Thai. The adults remained silent. Mai had much to contemplate. Charles kept watching her petite-frame in front of him. How agile she was on her feet. How pretty she was. He couldn’t take his eyes off of her. Long, however, had rediscovered his verboseness and spoke to Charles in a constant drone. Mai didn’t even bother to translate, and Charles responded with a consistent ‘uh-huh’, which seemed to be enough for Long.

After three and half hours of walking, Vinh stopped the quartet on a low-lying clearing overlooking a cluster of trees surrounded by rice paddies of varying elevation.

“Vinh says this is the village.”

The mid-morning sun had begun to command their attention. They descended the hill and started onto a dirt walking path leading into the center of twelve small cement and mortar homes, a typical Vietnamese cluster with an all dirt village square, lined with tall palm trees on both sides that provided shade to the modest dwellings. Chickens scattered themselves throughout the area and several houses had water buffaloes still tied to the side of the dwellings. The village lay still, like an epidemic had erased every living soul, leaving the houses untouched to wrestle through the day by themselves. It was too early for the mid-day rest, and this lack of activity unnerved Vinh to the point of putting his hand over his pistol.

“Where is everyone?” Long asked in an unsettlingly loud tone.

“Shhhh,” Vinh quieted him.

Charles sensed the tension and slid in front of Mai and Long just in case. When they passed the eighth empty house, the walking path turned off to the left, leading to the final four houses of the village, including Vinh’s grandparents’ home. The sight startled them all. Forty or fifty people facing away from them, stood in a silent clump, a trance-like pose, looking towards the last house, which stood at the very edge of a rice paddy—a large expanse leading out to the untouched emerald hills in the distance.

Vinh picked up the pace and hurried down the path, yelling something that Charles couldn’t understand. Two men, then ten, turned around to see the Viet Minh soldier, intensity in his eyes, only able to see the top of the doorway of his family’s home.

The men greeted Vinh in piercing tones, yelling at him excitedly in a bitter way that bordered on rage—the type of rage which fuels mob violence, which takes the law into its own hands. And certainly, there was no law here—dozens of miles from the nearest magistrate who already had been stripped of his authority. This was wild country, with political enemies and ideologies at every turn, strange as it was in a community of farmers. They were no longer immune to the events of the world and stood in the midst of a tragic power-play nearly a hundred years in the making.

“What’s going on?” Charles asked Mai.

“I’m not sure.”

Long hung on Charles’ arm, and Mai tucked herself behind the American as Vinh parted the crowd to see a lone Vietnamese woman sitting on the ground, head down, weeping furiously, mumbling incomprehensible words. It was Vinh’s sister, Tuyet.

“Tuyet! What has happened here?”

She lifted her head, surprised to see her brother.

“Vinh, go away.”

“What is going on?” yelled Vinh.

“Mai?” Charles whispered in her ear.

“I don’t know. She’s telling him to leave. That it’s none of his business.”

Long came up beside his Uncle Vinh and recognized his auntie, whom he hadn’t seen in several years.

“Auntie, what’s wrong?” he wedged himself through the crowd of neighbors, and she welcomed him into her arms, rocking him back and forth, comforting him for a reason not apparent to the youngster.

Tuyet refused to speak with Vinh, holding Long tightly and crying continuously. At long last, one neighbor stepped up and pointed to the side of the house, telling Vinh to go around the corner and look.

“What is it?” Vinh asked.

The man shrugged his shoulders, shook his head, and blended back into the crowd, not wanting to be the one to reveal anything. Vinh, Charles, and Mai walked slowly around the edge of the house with all eyes following them. Urgent whispers spread throughout the horde in grand anticipation. As they rounded the corner, there sat an ox cart with small wheels and an open back. Bamboo slats formed the make-shift railings on the sides and front. On the cart lay cargo of some sort, covered with several red-dyed reed mats. Vinh approached with an empty mind but with a heart that knew better. He stood at the side of the cart, gripping the edge of the mat in trepidation, until he finally lifted it. Upon the cart lay …

To find out what was on the cart and read the rest of this explosive story, click HERE!

99 Cent Promotion & Excerpt 1: “The Reach of the Banyan Tree”

My latest novel will be on 99 cents on Kindle from Feb 25 through March 2. Please pick up a copy at the link below.

The following is an excerpt from the very beginning, setting up the premise and theme. I hope you enjoy. I’d love to hear your feedback.

*************************************************************************************************

Part I: Lost Souls Fifty-Five Years Apart

The Banyan Tree

“A banyan tree sees all, knows all, and keeps many secrets. It knows a time of bondage and a time of freedom. Its reach never stops; it keeps growing and expanding regardless of circumstances, regardless of difficulties. Time and destiny are on its side. In the end, the grand banyan tree, with its thirty-foot expanse, will once again sense order restored to the universe.”

Nguyen Van Vinh, 1945, French Indochina

The Cliff

August 1945 – Tonkin, French Indochina

Dinh-Hoa didn’t think twice about the tropical monsoon which made visibility a dead-stop nil. He kept up the pace and sloshed down the mud-laced mountainous route, complete with hairpin turns every tenth of a mile. The wipers of his Soviet-Zel lorry flapped furiously but did little to remove the thick, curled, dimpled drops that repainted themselves on the windshield as soon as the rubber wiped them away.

Dinh-Hoa’s truck raced on, encased in the black stormy night, carrying a payload that needed to arrive on time. Only foolishness could have clung to the side of that mountain on a night like this, but Dinh-Hoa had done it a hundred times before. He felt each turn with the newly treaded tires and trustingly leaned into each curve with increasing confidence. There were no road signs, no guardrails, and, luckily, no oncoming traffic.

He estimated that he had an hour and a half more till he cruised into the relative ease of the rice plains and then on to headquarters. Without warning, a large rock jumped out and hit the right-front tire. Dinh-Hoa slammed on the brakes and swerved slightly, feeling a sudden nervousness in his stomach, which quickly dissipated as he felt the front tires grip, bringing the lorry back under control.

“Stupid rain.”

He curled around the next turn and hit a mud patch which locked his wheels like a vehicle on open ice. Dinh-Hoa and the truck careened off the cliff into the canyon below, falling one thousand five-hundred feet, piercing the darkness with five hundred brand new rifles.

Prison

July 2000 – Thai Nguyen, northern Vietnam

Love is not wished for. Nor is it wished away. Love, lost or found, must be wrestled with on a daily basis.

He put down his pen after scratching out a few muddled words that escaped his mind in that blindingly dark place. Light existed—faint strands that peered through the small portal eight feet above him. The window measured no more than a foot in diameter, with thick iron bars. He felt the heat, the deafening silence, and the unrelenting smell of urine, which turned his mind into a confusion of dark thoughts, constantly attacking him, teasing his sanity, spending his emotion. He only had her memory—little good that would do him. The small black journal shook in his hand as he blotted out everything in his mind except her. Her untouchable, petite frame, her hair jettisoning down to her waist, her soft touch, her gentle voice taming the harshest of edges. His phantom thoughts mocked him, sending him into convulsions, which usually ended with him lying flat on the damp floor, sweat dripping profusely from his wilting body. I love her, he would think or say out loud. To him it made no difference. Drenched, parched, and completely expelled, he cried for his loss—for his love that would never be again.

She could never forgive me. Never.

A thought like this might have given courage to a brave man to end it all. But he was not brave. He cowered in the darkness and cried, hoping the night would lift its wretched curse. But the iron doors clanged instead, and the silent jailer slid the tray of cabbage soup and steamed rice along the brick floor. He would eat like the coward he was. He would stay alive. He would hold the little black journal in his hand. He would think of her, and then he would fall asleep, face down on the jute cot, and wake up the next day to do it all over again.

80,000 more words and an amazing story is waiting for you HERE!  Only 99 cents for a limited time!

The Return of the Vietnamese Bean Cake

It’s funny how a simple treat from the past can download a whole heap of memories into your consciousness.

Have you ever eaten Vietnamese green bean cake? This stuff takes me back.

2015-02-16 18.19.04

 

A friend, stopping by Malaysia coming from Vietnam, picked this up for my family. When we lived in Haiphong from 1994-1997, we were the recipients of countless boxes of the special sweet cake. If you haven’t ever had it, and most of you probably haven’t, it’s quite unique. It has an extremely crumbly texture with a beanish-almost peanutish taste. Super sweet and tasty.

When I was first given one of these boxes back in 1994, I probably mocked it behind the giver’s back simply because I still had my extremely bland, close-minded American palate. But there is something about nostalgia which brings back the sweetness of the past – even if the past seemed short of it at the time. One bite of it yesterday was truly wonderful – both on the mouth and the mind. Here’s what it looks like on the inside.

2015-02-16 18.19.18

This wonderful treat is the claim to fame of Hai Duong, a sleepy little town midway between Hanoi and Haiphong. We used to regularly ride the train to Hanoi and as it made its 10 minute stop in Hai Duong, the vendors would pile on the train, hawking their wares – especially their green bean cakes. I never bought them. I lacked a need of it since my students at the time kept me and my child well-stocked.

So on this eve of the Vietnamese New Year, it was nice to have a little treat from the good old days in Haiphong. I’ll always remember those little stops in Hai Duong. Oh, and by the way, Hai Duong has another claim to fame – lychee – some of the best, fresh lychee in the world are grown there, ripe each late May. How I miss it!

Happy Tet everyone!

A Valentine’s Day Exclusive: “Banyan Tree” Romantic Excerpt

My latest novel, The Reach of the Banyan Tree, is loosely a historical romance. I hate to categorize it as such because I don’t believe it adequately describes it. But, it does have romance and it does tell a historical story. I thought I’d share a short romantic excerpt in honor of Valentine’s Day 2015. In the scene below, Charles Regal Carson finds a little unexpected love in the midst of chaos in the quiet, remote countryside of French Indochina – July 1945. Enjoy.

***

Charles paused for a moment, and then all was revealed to him. He understood her hesitation and her apprehension. He understood the worried look on her face and her comments about betrayal. The irony of the last two days finally came to light—that love could appear out of the muddy struggle for life in the countryside of Vietnam. He put his right hand in her hair and slightly pulled away, allowing the hair to cascade back down to her head. She closed her eyes and turned her head into his touch. Protocol and procedures were hundreds of miles away in the sleepy camp of Tan Trao. But on this night, on this patch of ground, Charles felt the urgings of his heart like never before. Death seemed a lifetime away, as did Dinh-Hoa and the rifles. He had never met anyone like Mai, and whatever tomorrow would bring, he knew they at least had this moment.

He leaned in towards her, and their lips met for the first time. Mai didn’t think of her husband or Vinh or the revolution; she thought only of the love and respect she had for Charles Regal Carson. Charles pulled her close, picking her petite frame off the ground, slowly caressing her back as they kissed.

There is comfort in shared experience, in the touch of a woman, in the arms of a respectable man. They pushed off the troubles of tomorrow, letting the dawn worry about the future.

Purchase The Reach of the Banyan Tree HERE!

New “Banyan Tree” Review: “Excellent Story, Beautifully Written”

Cathy from Cath’n’ Kindle Book Review recently posted her review of my latest novel, “The Reach of the Banyan Tree.”

She starts off by saying this:

“Mark Sasse never disappoints. He writes with heart and soul and sucks you right into his characters’ world…wherever and whenever it is.”

And ends by saying this:

“It’s an excellent story, beautifully written, quite possibly his best book yet. Highly recommended.”

She says a lot of wonderful things in the middle of those two quotes. Please head on over to her website and check out the entire review. And if it moves you to check out a good read, well I’d be honored to have you read it. Much appreciated!

Read the entire review: HERE!

A New Review – Some Author Comparisons – Some Reasons to Read “Banyan Tree”

Author, blogger, book reviewer – Eileen Granfors – gives a wonderful new book review of my latest, The Reach of the Banyan Tree. She also dropped some author names whom she used as a comparison. I am, of course, humbled by her kind words. She also coaxed out of me a list of 10 books which have inspired me. It’s all on her blog. The opening section of her review is here, but do head on over and read it in its entirety. And if you haven’t checked out “Banyan Tree” yet, I’d be honored. Enjoy.

“Historical fiction is my favorite genre, and Mark Sasse has joined my list of must-read authors in the genre. I would compare his work to that of both James Clavell and John Shors.

Sasse’s plots are intricate, as they should be in historical fiction. The story takes us through several generations, with the concomitant sociological-political-historical details of the time. This alone might suffice to satisfy my curiosity about eras of world history. But Sasse, as an observant writer, also develops setting and character and plot twists.”

Read the entire review HERE!