If You Lived Here
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.