Following my interview with Elka Ray, I checked out her innovative novel Saigon Dark, a thrilling tale focusing on morality and how seemingly small decisions can come back to haunt you.
The novel follows a desperate mother, disillusioned with her life, who finds herself in an impossible situation. In a bid to escape it she makes a decision that will change not only her own life, but also that of those around her. Spanning over a decade, the novel shows the fallout from this one wrong turn and how it impacts on the protagonist, Lily’s, life, as well as that of those she loves.
Elka, who has travelled extensively, draws on her strong knowledge of Asian culture and geography to provide a novel that, although exceptionally emotive and thought provoking, is also richly depicted, and filled with luscious descriptions of the Vietnamese way of life which her character now lives. Every description is well crafted and designed to stick with you- I can still picture the ‘four dark marks, like fingerprints dipped in ink’ that adorn the wrist of a local beggar.
Characters are often described, not in definite terms, but through a discussion of how they make the protagonist, Lily, feel or the memories they evoke in her. Through the first person narration we see a world filtered by Lily’s morals, memories and beliefs, creating an unreliable but fascinating narrative.
Fundamentally a strong thriller, Saigon Dark is a complex novel that does not fully belong to any genre. This is a tale of bitterness and betrayal, love, loss, and a desperate struggle to hide the truth.