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Note: the following guide contains spoilers, content warnings for domestic violence, murder, and anti-Asian racism, as well as references to critical plot points and the conclusion of Banyan Moon by Thao Thai.
Banyan Moon is a novel written by Thao Thai, a Vietnamese-American author, and it’s her first book, published in 2023. The story draws inspiration from Thao Thai’s immigrant experiences but is not directly based on her life.
Banyan Moon by Thao Thai
The book gained positive reviews and was nominated for the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize. It spans multiple decades, following the lives of three generations of women in a Vietnamese family as they navigate life in the United States. The novel incorporates elements of Southern Gothic fiction, exploring grief and the complexities of family relationships.
In this guide we will go through the complete summary and ending explanation for Banyan Moon by Thao Thai. Enjoy! ✨
Banyan Moon Summary
Banyan Moon has three narrators: Ann, a woman in her late 20s living with her wealthy boyfriend Noah; Hương, Ann’s mother in her early 50s residing in Florida; and Minh, Hương’s mother in her late 60s facing declining health after a fall. Ann, who hasn’t spoken to her mother for years, decides to return to Florida when she discovers she is pregnant and learns about Noah’s infidelity.
The story revolves around Ann and Hương clearing out the Banyan House, a mansion inherited from Minh. The relationship between Ann and Hương remains strained. As they sift through Minh’s belongings, Minh’s ghost reflects on her life.
In 1965, Minh, at 17, had Hương out of wedlock with a boy named Bình. She later married Xuân, had another child named Phước, and immigrated to the U.S. during the Vietnam War. Minh never remarried and kept Hương’s real father a secret, often sharing the Vietnamese folktale of Chú Cuội, a man tied to a magical banyan tree.
As Ann and Hương sort through the Banyan House, their relationship gradually improves. Ann opens up to Hương about her pregnancy, and they visit a Vietnamese temple for a blessing. Meanwhile, Noah, Ann’s boyfriend, tries to stay in touch, but Ann distances herself from him. She reconnects with her high school boyfriend, Wes, and childhood friend, Crystal.
Wes is still interested in Ann, despite having a son and ex-wife in California. Crystal reveals that their friendship faded in adolescence because Minh, Ann’s grandmother, didn’t think Crystal was suitable.
Ann learns she’s expecting a baby boy. Minh’s lawyer informs them that the Banyan House is left to Hương and Ann in her will, causing conflict with Phước, who desires the house for his own family. Hương recalls her past, revealing an abusive marriage with Vinh.
After a violent incident, Minh stepped in to protect Hương, killing Vinh and keeping it a secret. Hương never told Ann the truth about her father, creating inner conflict as she contemplates revealing the reality.
While cleaning, Ann discovers a trunk with keepsakes from Vietnam, including a photo of Bình inscribed to Minh. Recognizing the resemblance between Hương and Bình, Ann contemplates disclosing the truth but decides against it to spare Hương’s feelings. She burns the photo and eventually tells Noah about her pregnancy. Noah visits the Banyan House, expressing a desire to reconcile, but Ann refuses.
During a thunderstorm, Phước sets the Banyan House on fire, leaving Ann, Noah, and Hương unharmed but losing everything. Minh’s ghost moves on, realizing her love for Xuân. Hương knows Phước’s involvement but stays silent to avoid family strife.
Ann and Hương buy a cottage, resolving their differences. Wes heads to California to be closer to his son. Ann gives birth, names her son Bình, and Noah agrees to be part of the child’s life. Ann illustrates a children’s book about Chú Cuội.
Banyan Moon Ending Explained
So, what happens at the end of Banyan Moon?
In the final chapters of Banyan Moon, the revelation of Hương’s significant secret, covering up Minh’s murder of Vinh, highlights the novel’s theme of being haunted by the past. Facing this truth allows Hương to begin shedding the deep guilt she carried, realizing that Minh’s actions saved both her and Ann.
Despite this, at the book’s end, both Ann and Hương choose to keep their most substantial secrets – Ann doesn’t tell Hương about Bình, and Hương keeps Vinh’s truth from Ann. This decision reflects their growth, choosing to focus on the future instead of dwelling on the past, breaking the cycle of intergenerational trauma.
The burning of the Banyan House serves as a symbol of breaking away from a painful past and embracing a fresh start. The house, once a safe haven, had become a trap, hindering Ann and Hương’s progress. Its destruction allows Minh’s ghost, Ann, and Hương to finally move on. The house’s demise also represent a barrier that prevented the Tran women from fully engaging with the world, causing a form of isolation and repeating past arguments.
Throughout the story, Ann grapples with stifled artistic expression. In the end, she creates an illustrated version of Chú Cuội’s story for her son, blending Vietnamese culture with their life in America. This signifies Ann’s ability to create a brighter future for her son after working through challenges in mother-daughter relationships with Hương and Minh.
Wes’s decision to move to California mirrors Ann’s desire for a new beginning with baby Bình. However, Crystal’s concerns about Wes’s past behavior add complexity, raising questions about his reluctance to be a father and highlighting the intricacies of human relationships, mirroring Ann’s own complexities with Minh.
In the last part, the novel delves into the challenges of mother-daughter relationships, highlighting the extremes mothers go to, whether for better or worse, to shield their daughters from pain. Flashbacks of Vinh’s murder emphasize that both Minh and Hương, despite their differences, would go to any lengths to protect their daughters.
With Minh no longer alive, Hương sees an opportunity to step into the maternal role she believes Minh took from her. The absence of Minh makes it somewhat easier for Ann and Hương to communicate compassionately, even though they still have disagreements. Their ultimate reconciliation and decision to live together mark the emotional conclusion of the book.
Although their relationship isn’t flawless, they choose to embrace each other as fully realized individuals, imperfections and all. They aim to establish a healthier dynamic than they had with Minh, with Hương taking a less maternal role in baby Bình’s life.
The novel’s resolution suggests that characters only stop being haunted by the past when they actively work to release it. Ann and Hương’s reconciliation allows Minh to move on from haunting the house and reunite with Xuân. Despite evidence suggesting Phước likely burned down the Banyan House, leaving behind a charred Rolex, Hương decides to let it go.
Ann opts to raise baby Bình on her own, breaking the cycle of intergenerational trauma by releasing the burden of providing a traditional nuclear family – a source of Hương’s guilt for many years. This resolution signifies a transformative shift, illustrating that letting go of the past enables healing and the opportunity for a brighter future.
How did you like the ending of the novel? Happy reading! ❤️