Yannick Murphy. Photo by Dick Wieand. Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin.
Yannick Murphy’s first novel Sea of Trees describes, with an eye for both beauty and irony, the effects of imperialism on a young girl named Tian and her family. The novel begins in a prison camp in Indochina after the Japanese takeover in the ’40s and spans her family’s journey westward. While in the camp, one of many corpses is found in a marsh. It is impossible to discern whether he is Japanese or Chinese, enemy or friend. Like Tian, whose mother is French and father Chinese, Sea of Trees subtly portrays the complexities which occur when cultures merge. Women wait in desperation for the return of their men who have gone off to fight. Tian’s mother, on the brink of madness, searches for her husband by casting messages in bottles out to sea. Displaced from home and country, Tian and her family realize that home is no longer in a physical place, but rests in the love they have for each other. Despite the horrors the women in Tian’s family endure, they dance to a music they always manage to hear, never ashamed of where they come from and who they are. Murphy has created a delicate balance between a personal accounting of her own familial history and how it revolves around the larger political spectrum of the time. Sea of Trees is richly woven, a poetic narrative of strength and survival.
Sea of Trees is due out in May by Houghton Mifflin.