Beauty Rising

By Mark Sasse


Beauty RisingBook Blurb

“My heart sank. I dumped my father’s ashes in the heart of communist Vietnam – over a thousand miles from the death of his comrades – over a thousand miles from the smile of that girl. How could I have been so stupid?”

Only the bumbling, overweight, thirtyish, stay-at-home Martin Kinney could have mistakenly flubbed his dying father’s request with such gusto. This thousand mile mistake awakens the ghosts of long-held family secrets and puts Martin on a fateful course with an unlikely romantic interest – a young, beautiful, yet troubled Vietnamese woman named My Phuong.

With its cross-cultural setting and unlikely romance, the 61,000 word novel Beauty Rising creates a powerful, unique voice in today’s literature. In a swift-moving, dialogue-driven prose which is funny, honest, tragic and unpredictable, Beauty Rising explores the depths of culture, family, and love as the Vietnam War, a generation removed, continues to hang on the periphery of society, cursing families and causing destruction.

My Review

BEAUTY RISING is both a romance and a historical novel.  Martin, the 30-year-old son of highly dysfunctional parents, is determined to fulfill his father’s death wish – to scatter his ashes near a large protruding rock under two banana trees, by a lake in Vietnam. Martin scatters his dad’s ashes according to his wishes, but soon discovers he took them to the wrong lake, wrong banana trees.  Only the beginning of his bad luck, Martin’s wallet is stolen, and without any money or credit cards, he comes under the wing of a Vietnamese taxi driver and an American English teacher for the remainder of his stay.  After returning home, Martin is unable to forget the beautiful, young woman who he believes stole his wallet.

My Phuong’s life couldn’t get any worse. The daughter of a pastor, My Phuong escaped as the corrupt ruling party arrested her parents and brothers for illegally praying in the open.  After hearing that her parents were dead, she left her home and traveled north.  Reduced to life as a pickpocket, hairdresser, and prostitute, My Phuong flees Vietnam to save her life.

Sasse portrays the two main characters and their emotional struggles with sensitivity. This colorfully written saga of two unfortunate people across the miles from the United States to Vietnam and back, clearly shows the author researched his book in depth.

An emotionally charged story of love, redemption, and heartbreak, BEAUTY RISING is a book you do not want to miss.

About the Author

Mark is a proud Western PA native but has lived most of the last twenty years in Vietnam author photo1and Malaysia. His experiences in Asia have redefined everything including his palate, his outlook on life, and naturally his writing. You can find him most days cruising around Penang Island, eating the local delicacies and taking in the sun and exotic breezes as he looks for interesting places to write.

He has authored four novels with number five and six already somewhere on the horizon. His interests cast a wide net – from politics to literature – to culture and language – to history and religion – making his writing infused with the unexpected as he seeks to tell authentic and engaging stories about people from all walks of life. His writing is straightforward and accessible to all, especially those who enjoy writing injected with doses of Asian culture, history, adventure, and delightful humor. You never know what you might get when you pick up a Sasse novel.

Besides novel-writing, Sasse is a prolific dramatist, having written and produced more than a dozen full-length dramatic productions. He especially is fond of the short play format and has twice won the Best Script award at the Short & Sweet Theatre Festival Penang. His plays and short musicals have also been produced in Kuala Lumpur and Sydney, Australia. Performances of his scripts also won Gold and Bronze medals at the Southeast Asian Forensics Competition 2014.

His professional background is as diverse as his writing. He holds Master’s degrees from California State University Dominquez Hills and Azusa Pacific University in Humanities and TESOL respectively. His undergraduate degree was in English, which helped him develop his passion for creative writing. He has extensive experience in teaching English, history, and drama.

On top of all of this, he loves to cook everything from gourmet pizzas, to Mexican, to various Asian dishes. Flavor is the key of both his cooking and his writing. He very much hopes you enjoy the taste. (Biography is from



Twitter: @sassevn

Amazon Author Page: Mark Sasse Amazon Author Page


The Reach of the Banyan Tree by Mark W. Sasse

Banyan Tree Cover Crop small

Mark Sasse’s historic novel/contemporary romance takes place in Vietnam during two time periods, World War II and present day.  Estranged from his father Charles Regal Carson II of Carson Oil, Chip (Charles Regal Carson III) travels to Tan Trao, North Vietnam and discovers a connection to his paternal grandfather, the Flying Dutchman, an American soldier on a mission to help repel Japanese aggression. Chip and his fiancé Thuy explore the Phuong Hoang Cave Historical Site. Vietnam wasn’t something his grandfather talked about, and when Chip comes across a carving in stone – his grandfather’s name linked to the name of a woman Mai, Chip finds himself wondering who Mai was.   The discovery opened a vault of questions that wouldn’t be answered until Chip, through a life changing mishap, was given the key to unearthing the mystery.

“This banyan tree is many centuries old. It stands a sacred test of time…not just because of its beauty and majesty. It is a symbol of life coming from death…the branches never forget where they came from. This is the land of Vietnam.”  (From The Reach of the Banyan Tree – p. 70) There are many references to the banyan tree throughout the book. Its importance to the village of Tan Trao never waned through the years; it was as relevant during the Chip’s story as it was during the time of his grandfather.

Sasse’s depiction of Vietnam during both eras was accurate, though the characters are fictitious.  His story focuses on the coming together of two different cultures, American and Vietnamese, at different times, and shows that love knows no political boundaries.

The plot explores the complexities of then and now Vietnam and the lives of two Americans living there. The characters are well defined, and so believable it is difficult to separate historical fact from fiction. Add the elements of romance and mystery, and you have a book that is hard to put down.

Mark W Sasse was born in western Pennsylvania, but has spent nearly two decades living, teaching, and writing overseas in Vietnam and Malaysia. He has advanced degrees in author photo1Humanities and English. His debut novel, Beauty Rising, was released in December 2012 which was followed by The Recluse Storyteller in October 2013. He is also an enthusiast of live theatre. He writes and directs for the drama troupe The RLT Players. He won the award for “Best Script” in 2013 Penang Short & Sweet Festival for his script “No In Spite of Itself.” His short play “Drive All Night” won the Audience Choice award at the 2012 Penang Short & Sweet Festival. The Reach of the Banyan Tree is his third novel.

The Reach of the Banyan Tree is due out July1, 2014.

To follow Mark Sasse on Facebook, click here.

To go to Mark Sasse’s author page on Amazon, click here.

To visit Mark Sasse’s blog mwsasse, click here.

This book was given to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

LAST NIGHT I DREAMED OF PEACE, The Diary of Dang Thuy Tram

ImageIt has been several years since I read LAST NIGHT I DREAMED OF PEACE, The Diary of Dang Thuy Tram, but her story continues to haunt me.  Dang was twenty-two when she graduated from medical school and turned down her opportunity for higher education in her field. She chose instead to serve as a field doctor for the Viet Cong during the Vietnam conflict.

Tram wrote of her homesickness for her family and for her high school sweetheart with whom she had fallen in love. She wrote of her fears for her loved ones, her patients, and herself. Dang Thuy Tram described the horrors of war and her deep sadness when she lost a patient. She was intensely loyal to her country and to the Communist party.

Always on the move to avoid discovery by the enemy (the American troops), Thuy lived in constant fear.  Dang Thuy Tram and her comrades built clinics hidden from the Americans in the undergrowth. Often there was neither enough medical supplies nor food for the patients. Thuy regularly did without sleep and was continually aware of the danger.  She patched up the wounded and sent them back into action only to have them return wounded again, or worse.  Through all of this, she made many friends and remained faithful to her family and the service of her country.

An American soldier whose orders were to destroy all documents that were of no value to the military, found the diary and kept it on the advice of his Vietnamese translator who urged him not to burn it saying “It has fire in it already.” The soldier kept the diary and thirty-five years later tracked down Thuy’s family and returned the diary to them. Published in Hanoi in 2005, LAST NIGHT I DREAMED OF PEACE became sought after especially by the young, those born after 1975.

Many of us overlook the pain and fears of the enemy. Thuy’s diary confirms that, in war all suffering, fear, pain, and death cross enemy lines.

I highly recommend LAST NIGHT I DREAMED OF PEACE, The Diary of Dang Thuy Tram.