Andre Dao

Penguin Random House Australia
2 May 2023


Andre Dao

Anam is a novel about memory and inheritance, colonialism and belonging, home and exile.

A grandson tries to learn the family story. But what kind of story is it? Is it a prison memoir, about the grandfather imprisoned without charge or trial by a revolutionary government? Is it an oral history of the grandmother left behind to look after the children? Or is it a love story? A detective tale?

Moving from 1930s Hanoi through a series of never-ending wars and displacements to Saigon, Paris, Melbourne and Cambridge, Anam is a novel about memory and inheritance, colonialism and belonging, home and exile.

Anam blends fiction and essay, theory and everyday life to imagine that which has been repressed, left out, and forgotten. The grandson mines his family and personal stories to turn over ideas that resonate with all of us around place and home, legacy and expectation, ambition and sacrifice. As he sifts through letters, photographs, government documents and memories, he has his own family to think about- a partner and an infant daughter. Is there a way to remember the past that creates a future for them? Or does coming home always involve a certain amount of forgetting?


Anam, the debut novel by Melbourne writer André Dao, is told through the eyes of a human rights lawyer who has paused his life in Melbourne to return to study in Cambridge, England. With his young family in tow, he embarks on a dissertation that seeks to reclaim the past for his family, who have been long separated by war, violence, and colonialism.

Growing up in Melbourne the child of Vietnamese refugees, his youth is defined by the life of his grandfather, a Catholic intellectual and lawyer, who was jailed without charge for 10 years in Chí Hòa Prison in the 1980s. The remaining family leaves Vietnam – the grandmother to France – and a prolonged limbo ensues until his release.

As a young man, the grandson starts recording conversations with his grandparents, aunts, and uncles, gathering documents to piece together the familial threads into something cohesive. But the past, and each family member’s perspective on it, eludes a harmonious narrative. Separation and loss beget a form of stasis in which old wounds remain open.

Ultimately, the grandson must balance his need to make sense of the past with creating a future for his own family. In a letter to his daughter, he writes, ‘... I thought that telling might itself be a home ... that I could take those stories and write a home for you ...’

Throughout Anam, Dao leans in and stays with the complexities of a family riven by war and diaspora, and of lives defined by loss. Some things cannot be resolved and, as the grandson observes, both memory and forgetting are needed to create a present in which one can live one’s life: ‘We can’t redeem the past for those who lived through it.’

Anam is an enthralling and challenging novel, with moments both painful and tender. It is a profoundly beautiful debut.

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