By Aska Mochizuki
Vintage, $18.95, 231 pages

Aska Mochizuki has crafted a dizzying tale of forbidden love in Spinning Tropics, a lush, lusty debut novel that is part Vietnamese travelogue, part drama, and wholly entertaining.

Translated from its original Japanese for the first time, Spinning Tropics is the story of Hiro, a Japanese language teacher living abroad in Vietnam, and one of her students, Yun.  The two fall in love, a situation made problematic by the fact that Yun is a woman.  They embark on a romance fraught with peril and beset by jealousies, insecurities, and the competing attention of a Japanese businessman named Konno.

Mochizuki succeeds in completely immersing the reader in Vietnamese culture.  Her writing is so colorfully descriptive, we can practically taste the coconut shakes and steamed fish, can nearly smell the exhaust smoke from the motorcycles that ply Ho Chi Minh City’s streets, and can feel the intense Southeast Asian sun searing our skin.  Best of all, we walk away with a better understanding of the complexities of love and desire, thanks to a novel that teaches even as it titillates.

Reviewed by Mark Petruska