Just around the corner from Rome’s Pantheon, on the Via di Sant’Ignazio, is the famed Biblioteca Casanatense. Among its precious  books and manuscripts is an album of 76 striking watercolours made  in Goa around 1540, the work of an anonymous Indian painter for an unknown Portuguese patron.

Eugenia Cheng, author of the cleverly-titled x + y: A Mathematician’s Manifesto for Rethinking Gender, is—goes Wikipedia—“a British mathematician, concert pianist, and an honorary fellow of pure mathematics at the University of Sheffield. Her mathematical interests include higher-dimensional category theory, and as a pianist she specialises in lieder and art song.” Her current gig is Scientist in Residence at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Even more daunting, her website features a stint on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

“The challenges faced by the Vietnamese people throughout history are as tall as the tallest mountains,” writes Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai in the first chapter of The Mountains Sing. This is no exaggeration: wars, famine and political revolution test her characters, various members of the extended Tran family, to the limit. This engrossing family saga, both Quế Mai’s debut novel and her first book in English, provides a fresh, and ultimately uplifting, perspective on the American-Vietnamese war.