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Writer Nguyen Phan Que Mai and her book ‘The Mountains Sing,’ runner-up of the 2021 Dayton Literary Peace Prize for Fiction. Photo: Supplied

Launched in 2006, the Dayton Literary Peace Prize is recognized as one of the world’s most prestigious literary honors, and is the only international literary peace prize awarded in the United States. 

The prize, which awards a US$10,000 honorarium to both a fiction and a non-fiction winner, as well as $5,000 each to runners-up, aims to celebrate the power of literature in promoting peace, social justice, and global understanding. 

In this year’s competition for fiction works, Alexander Starritt’s ‘We Germans,' a novel written in the form of a letter from a German soldier to his grandson, took the top prize.

‘The Mountains Sing,' Nguyen Phan Que Mai’s sweeping tale of a Vietnamese family told by a matriarch who lived through the war in Vietnam, was named the runner-up.

They had triumphed over many other shining contenders, including Louise Erdrich’s ‘Night Watchman,’ winner of Pulitzer Prize 2021 for fiction, and Douglas Stuart ‘Shuggie Bain,’ fiction category winner at Booker Prize 2021.

Set during the war in Vietnam, ‘The Mountains Sing’ tells the story of the Tran family matriarch, Dieu Lan, and her granddaughter, Huong, as Huong comes of age and learns from her grandmother the lessons of survival and compassion.

“The Mountains Sing is my yearning for peace, for human compassion, for forgiveness, for hope, and for humans to love humans more,” Mai wrote. 

“I echo my call for peace in the form of this novel, through the words of my character Huong: ‘Somehow I was sure that if people were willing to read each other, and see the light of other cultures, there would be no war on earth.’”

Mai’s work will be honored in a gala weekend in Dayton, Ohio on November 13-14 alongside both this year's and last year’s winners.