Mark Sasse: The Reach of the Banyan Tree
Like star crossed lovers Chip Carson reflects on his past as he sits in a dark, dang and dirty prison cell going through the motions of life as if he’s living outside of his body. The novel is complex and takes place during two separate time periods. As we meet Chip aka Charles Regal Carson III who divorces himself form his father’s empire and decides to travel to Tan Trao, North Vietnam and begins a journey that will take him back in time to WWII and living a nightmare in the present. Charles Regal Carson II is an oil magnate and a very controlling and manipulating figure. As we get to know more about the reasons why Chip decides to veer out on his own we learn about his connection to his paternal grandfather, the Flying Dutchman. The Flying Dutchman said to be an American soldier on a mission out to foil and stop the Japanese.
Chip is hard working and has created a foundation to help people in Vietnam. Along with his girlfriend Thuy the begin climb mountains, reach huge heights and withstand obstacles to explore the Phuong Hoang Cave which revealed information about his grandfather when he comes across in the cave a carving in stone. His grandfather is linked to a woman named Mai who Chip immediately wants to learn more about. But, things change and as Thuy’s family embraces Chip as a friend for their daughter and allows him to befriend their young son, Quat, they shun and discount him as a marriage partner for their daughter. When Chip asks for Thuy’s hand and Thuy asks her father for his blessing, what happens will enlighten readers to the greed, prejudice and injustices that Thuy faced living under her father’s roof. Her mother deemed helpless and her father constantly drunk, would not relent until something changed it all. When commenting about Americans and stating the Chip had really nothing to offer, he relents and tells the truth about his heritage and parentage and that sets him up for a big win he thinks as her father changes his mind since he daughter is now going to marry a rich American. Things progress until one night when Chip leaves, jumps on his motorcycle and young Quat tries to catch up to him to return the sunglasses he borrowed. Not wanting to let Chip go home without them what happens tragic, an accident but Thuy and her family do not see it that way and Chip winds up at the hands of the Vietnamese Police and place in prison for a murder that he did not commit. No one listened. No one realized the pain that he felt and the remorse when Quat was tragically killed. But, it is this tragedy that will link him to his past. The Chief of Police shows no compassion for him but someone comes to the prison and presents him with a journal that takes readers back in time when it all began. Meet Long as he relates to his son how Charles Regal Carson saved his life and how it was his turn to do something for Chip.
Mark Sasse takes readers into the villages of Vietnam and back in time as we meet Long as an eager young 14 -year old boy who meets Charles Regal Carson and in five minutes after his arrival makes him his best friend. Two-time periods and yet one story that will link both the present and the past. Cultures that are different and although Chip planned to marry Thuy, the accident that landed him in prison changed it all. For she no longer wanted anything to do with him, sided with her family and left him alone. When this stranger or Long appears at the prison and hands him the journal that houses the information about his grandfather who parachuted into French Indochina at the close of the second world war, Chip takes the journal, its words and learns about his grandfather, his past and what some would do for love. As we go back in time and meet Vinh, his nephew Long, Charles or Ch Le as they call him and Mai and hear their stories, learn their struggles as Long’s brother is the catalyst for part two or the flashbacks in time as he is sent out to pick up a shipment of rifles and goes missing. Within the scenes that follow as they search for his brother, they enter the village but not before encountering some Frenchman that intend to rape Mai and kill the rest. But, the tables turn they wind up dead and Charles and Mai bury them all but Vinh has so much hate within him that what happens when they reach the village will change everything. His parents killed, his family gone and his sister about to marry a Frenchman and Vinh wants revenge. What happens will bring harden Long and bring more tragedy as the end result is another death. As Chip reads and the author relates the story we learn just how far someone will go for love. Just what will Charles in the present do to have another chance with Thuy? Will she ever forgive him for what happened to her brother?
Throughout the novel several issues come to light as prejudice, hate diverse beliefs and cultures clash leaving broken branches in their wake. Learning more about the past we understand the true meaning of the Banyan Tree as the author relates its meaning. So majestic a window to the past he states reminded of Mai and her relationship to his grandfather. The is almost magical and it knows all and “keeps many secrets.” Remembering that the French came to Indochina and it even knew a time of peace and freedom. Almost human in some respects as it grows, expands and develops regardless of obstacles of difficulties. It holds your destiny and hopefully with the aid of the banyan tree everything will work out in their favor. But, what about Thuy and Chip? What will their fate be?
When Chip’s father arrives in Vietnam and demands an audience with the Deputy Minister, you can feel the tension in the room, the fear in his employee’s eyes as he demands meetings, results, phone calls and will stop at nothing to get what he wants.
As the Chief of Police and Minister Dung conspire to free Chip yet want to find a way to pronounce justice even if it means doing something illegal, the end result will surprise readers as someone from the past comes forward in the present. The village of Tan Trao holds many memories and when Chip is finally freed from his cell, reunites with his father and hopes to escape unharmed his heart is still heavy without the love of Thuy and what he finally does will not only jeopardize his life but others too.
But, there is much more as Chip reunites with Long and finds his way to his house even though he is finally free. What he learns about Long and his past changes his perspective of his grandfather as he learns Mai’s fate, where she wound up and her relationship with Long. Long joined the forces and fought for the revolution with Mai at his side almost like a mother. Relationships change and things between them developed and the end result was something special for them both. Follow your Heart his grandfather would say! But why didn’t he?
A father whose power was worldwide and who would do anything to help his son. A country so riddled with war and hate that at times they could not see past it . A father who wanted justice and revenge and did not see that Chip drank with him and that perhaps part of what happened to Quat might have been his fault. Anger, fear, frustration and hate wreaked havoc in Thang’s mind and body until he could not take it anymore. So, why does Chip decide to come back for Thuy? Why won’t he leave without her? A scene so compelling and tragic you have to read it to understand the depth of his love and her blind loyalty for a father who rejected her as a daughter, abused her mother and did not deserve her love.
What happens at the end when we meet Chip 14 years later and now the head of his company will surprise you and the subtle twist at the end will let readers know that sometimes the power of the banyan tree just might win over hate. “ I’m not leaving without you.” Would he if given another chance? Read The Reach of the Banyan Tree: join Chip as he sits under the tree, learns its meaning and defines his fate.
As story so vividly depicted, scenes graphically related and two cultures that clash, societies that are so different, loyalties that are misplaced and two young people at the center. When prejudice, hate, lies, betrayals and fear are so powerful only tragedy wins! Once again Mark Sasse pens a novel so poignant, with two loves so powerful and filled with hope that only he can bring it to light. Charles and Mai/ Thuy and Carson: Which ones will find happiness under the Banyan Tree?