monthly review: January 2011 (or thereabouts*)
*I’m letting bits of December creep in as this is Hanoi Ink’s first monthly review
The 11th Party Congress took place in Hanoi in January, and prompted a range of literary events, including a book exhibition in HCM City, and the presentation of nearly 1,000 books to Vietnam’s border soldiers. The Age Publishing House together with the Vietnam Scientific Historical Association and Past and Present Magazine introduced two books to welcome the 11th National Party Congress: Memory of the First Independent Days 1945-1946 and Ho Chi Minh – the person who brought light. The 12-volume Complete Works of Ho Chi Minh was also reprinted for Party Congress.
The annual awards of the Vietnam Writers’ Association were announced in January. The Literature Prize went to veteran army writer Sương Nguyệt Minh for Dị Hương (Strange Fragrance), his collection of six short stories on loneliness, love, sex and materialism in a changing society. Nguyễn Bích Lan’s translation of Slumdog Millionaire topped the translation category. Quế Hương’s short-story collection for children Chiếc vé vào cổng thiên đường xanh (Ticket to the Blue Heaven) was also praised, but ultimately not awarded a prize as it did not completely meet the requirements of the award rules.
Bích Ngân’s novel Thế giới xô lệch (Disproportionate World), Y Phương’s Tháng giêng tháng giêng, một vùng dao quắm (maybe something like: January January, Ruffian’s Country?) and Lê Bá Thự’s translation of Polish author Dorota Terakowska’s novel Gift of God were also commended.
In December, the Writers’ Association fiction prize for the past 3 years was awarded to 74-year old Nguyễn Quang Thân for his historical novel, Hội Thề (Revenge Vows). The book tells the story of 15th century Emperor Lê Thái Tổ and his loyal courtier the politician and poet Nguyễn Trãi, and their campaign against Chinese occupation by the Ming.
In Canada, the writer Kim Thúy also recently received a 2010 Governor-General’s Literary Award for her autobiographical novel Ru.
January was of course also the lead up to the lunar new year celebrations, which this year took place right at the start of February. Book sales were reported to be up in HCM City ahead of Tet, where the first ever street book festival was planned for the Tet period
Finally, the December issue of the Vietnam Journal of Literary Research focused on the life and work of Leo Tolstoy on the 100 year anniversary of his death.
The following information on recent publications is mostly taken from publishers, with apologies for translation errors and editorializing. Please let me know of important stuff that I have missed via the comments function.
As written about obsessively on Hanoi Ink, this is the first published novel by Tran Dan since the 1950s, around 44 years after it was written and more than 13 years after his death.
A detective novel in diary form, it draws on the author’s early 1960s prison interviews in Hanoi with soldiers who formerly fought for the French regime. Critic Lại Nguyên Ân gave it high praise, and I have heard positive comments from other readers as well.
Billed as a story of young love in modern life: Phan, a young journalist in Hanoi, receives the attention and favor of many girls, but he is obsessed by Dung, her love and her death (hmm Murakami, anyone?).
Will Phan’s experiences finally help him to realize the value of life and love? Will he finally recognize the love of Ngoc and live happily ever after?
Short stories and collections
The latest story from ASEAN Literary Award winner Nguyễn Nhật Ánh. It explores growing up in poverty, alongside themes of love.
It is apparently the first time the author has included villains, exploring ethical issues of heartlessness and evil. The 81 chapters are 81 short stories about the children of the village. The publishers expect this touching book to be of interest to both children and adults alike. 32,000 copies have reportedly been sold in the first two months of publication.
A collection of short works on Saigon. Well-known authors were invited to participate and mostly themselves chose which stories they would submit.
It is not attempting to be the definitive set of the ‘best’ writing on Saigon, but rather an idiosyncratic and personal set of visions and experiences of the city, past and present. The aim is to reflect the diversity and richness of perspectives on the city and to contribute to a more beautiful Saigon.
This short-story collection comes out shortly after the release of the film-version of Ngọc Tư’s previous story Cánh đồng bất tận (The Endless Fields a.k.a. Floating Lives).
Apparently the rights have already been sold: expect another film.
A collection of 66 mini stories on everyday life and social relationships by writer and journalist Y Ban. Born in 1961, she has written several books including I am đàn bà (I am woman) in 2006.
The fourth poetry collection from northern poet Nguyễn Phan Hách, known for his poem Hoa sữa (Milk Flowers). In this collection he comes back to a simple, innocent style of folk poetry.
Other stuff that caught my eye
American-born G.B. Tran’s graphic novel is a memoir and personal discovery of family heritage, inspired by a trip with his parents to Vietnam. This is the hard-cover full colour edition. It looks amazing and very, very cool.
This is the first comprehensive and detailed book on the Vietnam-China land border. It reflects Vietnam’s official policies and guidelines on addressing border issues in order to protect territorial integrity.
The book outlines the history of the Vietnam-China Land Border Treaty in 1999 and its implementation over the past decade culminating in the placing of the final border marker in 2008.