A Hundred Suns
by Karin Tanabe

After more than 1,500 pages of Richard Rhodes histories of the dawn of the Atomic Age, I was ready for some light reading and 100 Suns provided me with just that. At 400 pages, it’s a longish novel, but it’s a fast read, making it enjoyable.

The setting was perhaps the most interesting part as it describes Viet Nam (then called Indochina, or Indochine) during its French Colonial era in the days before World War II. The story is surrounded by the role of the Michelin family and its rubber and tire company in the societal structure of the country. If you have ever wondered where Ho Chi Min and the Viet Cong came from, a Cliff Notes explanation is in this book.

A Vietnamese plantation worker taps a rubber tree.

Protagonist Jessie and antagonist Marcelle are dysfunctional women from France (although Jessie is originally a New Yorker) who are resident in Hanoi. Jessie has manipulated her husband Victor, a distant Michelin cousin, into being transferred there to manage the rubber plantations, and Marcelle has manipulated her husband Arnaud to transfer his work there so she can be with her Vietnamese lover.

The cause of their conflict is rooted in the colonialism of the Vietnamese, Hanoi and Michelin cultures, and the details of it are a tad bit bizarre, involving somewhat zany people, local herbals that do interesting things, and behavior that is  . . . well, interesting. But the story keeps you going if for no other reason than the book lends itself to skimming more than reading, and I found myself staying up way past my bedtime to finish the last few chapters.

The one thing about the writing in the book that I found confusing was in the beginning chapters in which each woman describes herself, tells enough of her story so you know why she is in Hanoi and what her life there is like. The problem was that the voices of both women were identical, and I more than occasionally had to check back to the chapter title to see who was speaking.

Not a great book, but a quick, fun read that I enjoyed!

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