old books in da nang
Following on from recent trips to HCM City and Bình Định, Hanoi Ink continued the push for national coverage with a weekend visit to Đà Nẵng. A quick internet search for old book shops (hiệu sách cũ) on arrival immediately turned up several references to Hồng Đức Bookshop at K59/10 Lê Hồng Phong street, within Đà Nẵng’s central Hải Châu district. I borrowed a bike from my hotel and headed across town for a look.
The address turned out to be a private house down a small lane off Lê Hồng Phong street. A sign at the start of the lane pointed me in the right direction and the place was not not too hard to find. The gate was locked when I arrived, but friendly neighbours announced my arrival and I was welcomed inside by a fairly shy young woman who informed me that the owner was visiting the homeland but that I was welcome to look around.
The entrance to Hồng Đức Bookshop
The book shop itself is basically the ground floor front room, walled on three sides with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and opening onto a small courtyard garden. A long table and a huge, ancient looking book press occupy the space in the centre of the room.
Somewhat to my surprise, the shop is rather dominated by Russian authors, including an extensive range of Russian works in Vietnamese as well as works by both Russian authors in translation and Vietnamese authors on literary criticism and the history of Russian literature. A couple of shelves house English-language works by Russian authors including Tolstoy and Maxim Gorky. The technical section also includes a fairly extensive set of Soviet-era manuals and textbooks on agricultural and industrial machinery as well as maritime topics, both in Russian language and particularly in Vietnamese translation.
Floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall books
There is a section on Vietnamese literature, although this is not so extensive. I did come across a 2-volume work on the life and writing of Nguyễn Khắc Viện as well as a few editions of Vietnamese Studies, the journal in English (and French) that he edited from the 1960s until the early 1980s. The editions I found here include No. 11: The Failure of “Special War”, 1961-1965 (1966), No. 13: Agricultural Problems (Vol.2): Rice (1967), No. 47: Glimpses of U.S. Neo-Colonialism (V): Collapse of the Neo-Colonialist Regimes in Indochina (1977) and No. 53: The Catholics and the National Movement (1977).
Facing the main sections on Vietnamese and Russian literature, there are smaller areas devoted to books in French and English. There are quite a number of American books here dating from the 1960s, which presumably arrived along with US soldiers and administrators (and their families, judging by the presence of a few children’s books). Quite a varied range here: titles which caught my eye included Lousia May Alcott’s Little Women, several books on the American Constitution, a US Marine Corps Biographical Dictionary from 1963, the pure 1960s Americana children’s book Rocket Divers, and the wonderfully titled Destructive and Useful Insects: their habits and control from 1962.
This old book press is still in use
In the end, I departed with a pile of books to carry back to Hanoi. These included Thoi Xa Vang by Lê Lựu from 1987 which I read years ago in English translation under the title A Time Far Past, the three editions of Vietnamese Studies, a small stack of old technical manuals in Vietnamese and Russian which won me over with their bold cover art and technical illustrations, as well as a French-language manual from Moscow for the irrepressible Soviet BA32106 automobile, otherwise known as the Lada. Oh, and I also grabbed Rocket Divers.