monthly review: february 2011
Hanoi Ink’s second monthly roundup of Vietnamese literature
The annual poetry day was celebrated on 17 February (full moon of the first lunar month). At the Temple of Literature in Hanoi, the theme was spring. The event also marked 100 years since Ho Chi Minh departed Vietnam for Europe in 1911, as well as the 70th anniversary of his return to Vietnam. Poetry recitals for children also took place. Events were also organized in HCM City and many other locations throughout the country. The Vietnam Writer’s Association also announced that they had received an anonymous donation of $53,000 which will be used to organize an International Poetry Festival in Vietnam in 2012.
The first ever Tet street book festival in HCM City was apparently a huge success, with around 150,000 visitors and a well-attended discussion with four Vietnamese authors. An anime and mange festival was held in HCM City in February also.
Some of Vietnam’s most famous stories will be published as graphic novels in Japan later this month as part of the Danh tác Việt Nam (Famous Vietnamese Literary Works) series. Titles include Chí Phèo by Nam Cao, Giông tố (Thunderstorm) by Vũ Trọng Phụng and Tắt Đèn (Turn out the light) by Ngô Tất Tố. The translation and publishing is being carried out under a deal between the Viet Nam-Japan Culture Exchange Centre and Phan Thi Publishing House.
News also in February that Cho tôi xin một vé đi tuổi thơ (Give Me a Ticket Back to Childhood) by award-winning children’s book author Nguyễn Nhật Ánh will be translated into Thai. He is apparently to be published in Russian also.
L’Espace in Hanoi continued their extremely interesting series of conferences on various art and culture topics. A roundtable on Vietnamese literary criticism in the 20th century was held on 21st February with critic Đỗ Lai Thúy, based on his new book Phê bình văn học, con vật lưỡng thê ấy (Literary criticism, a polygamous beast). This was followed on 23rd February by a conference and performance on the “len dong” ceremony with presenter Professor Ngo Duc Thinh and Dr. Nguyen Xuan Dien. Then on 28th February a conference on the poet Xuan Quynh (1942 – 1988), described as Vietnam’s most famous Vietnamese modern female poet, was organized to celebrate the publication of two collections of her poems in Vietnamese and French. L’Espace also sponsored a performance of Le Doloeur (The Pain) about writer Marguerite Duras on 24th February at the Hanoi Opera House.
A memorial was held in HCM City for Vietnam’s first Education Minister, Professor Vu Dinh Hoe, who died in late January aged 100. Sad news also that Nguyen Qui Duc’s much loved Tadioto bar and literary/arts space in Hanoi closed in February, though with a very worthy send-off. There are hopeful hints of a new place.
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.
Hồ Sơ Một Tử Tù
(Case of a prison execution)
Author: Nguyễn Đình Tú
Publisher: NXB Văn Học
I have not been able to find out very much about this book or the author, who was born in the 1970s. As I understand this is not a new book, rather a newly published edition of his first novel from the 1990s, and that like most of his works it focuses on questions of evil, crime and human potential for change.
Short Story Collections
Ô Xúc Xắc Nhiều Màu
(Dice of many colours)
Author: Bùi Anh Tấn
Publisher: NXB Phụ Nữ (Women’s Publishing House)
This is a collection of 11 short stories by police journalist and writer Bùi Anh Tấn. He is best known for his crime novel Một thế giới không có đàn bà (A world without women). Published in 2000, this was the first Vietnamese fictional work to include a extensive focus on gay people in the country. That novel was made into a TV series in 2007, although apparently the author was not etirely happy with the result.
Một Nhan Sắc Đàn Bà
(uh, maybe A Woman’s Beauty?)
Author: Ma Văn Kháng
Publisher: NXB Phụ Nữ (Women’s Publishing House)
Short story collection on themes of love and family from veteran writer Ma Văn Kháng, now well into his 70s and the author of around 10 novels and many short stories. His controversial 1999 tale of sex and politics in Vietnam, Against the Flood, was translated into English by Phan T. Hao and Wayne Karlin in 2000.
Chân Dung Vô Hình
Author: Nguyễn Hồ
Publisher: NXB Hội Nhà Văn
Not much from the publisher on this collection of 20 short stories by Nguyễn Hồ. From various brief online references, it seems that a writer and former party member of that name spent some time under house arrest in the early 1990s for circulating a list of proposed reforms. It wouldn’t be normal for two writers to use the same name, so I’m assuming this is the same person.
Dựa Vào Vai Em Và Khóc Đi Anh
(Lean on my shoulder and cry darling)
Author: Hà Thanh Phúc
Publisher: NXB Hội Nhà Văn
This is a collection of 13 short stories about love from 23-year old Ho Chi Minh City-based writer Hà Thanh Phúc. Stories in the collection include the rather whimsically-named Con dê nhỏ chơi vĩ cầm giữa biển (Small goat playing the violin at sea), as well as Houston ngày mưa (Houston on a rainy day), “Sẽ không điều gì làm em khóc được, trừ anh…” (“Nothing can make me cry, unless you…”) and others.
Family of Fallen Leaves: Stories of Agent Orange by Vietnamese Writers
Edited by Charles Waugh and Huy Lien
Foreword by John Balaban
Publisher: UGA Press
This collection of twelve short stories and one essay by Vietnamese writers addresses the tragic legacy of Agent Orange in Vietnam. The collection was prepared by Charles Waugh at Utah State University in the US and Huy Lien at the Vietnam National University in Hanoi, with a foreword by John Balaban. It includes materials written from the early 1980s, most of which are presented in English for the first time, including the essay by journalist Minh Chuyên.
The short stories in this collection are based on the writer’s memories following a period of study abroad. The stories apparently try to capture the feelings of ancient and modern Europe, with titles such as: “Autumn in Rennes”, “A famous German chicken”, “Suddenly in Rome” and “Flowers of Brittany”. Possibly a slight gag warning for this one.
Lê Thiếu Nhơn, twice recipient of the HCM City Literature Association award for poetry, introduces 25 contemporary Vietnamese poets, including Yến Lan, Nguyên Sa, Phùng Khắc Bắc, Lãng Thanh, Thảo Phương, Hoàng Yến, Trương Nam Hương, Nguyễn Duy, Hoàng Việt Hằng, Trần Nhuận Minh, Lê Xuân Đố, Thái Thăng Long, Trang Thanh, Lò Ngân Sủn, Bùi Kim Anh…
Phê bình văn học, con vật lưỡng thê ấy
(Literary criticism, a polygamous beast)
Author: Đỗ Lai Thúy
Publisher: Writers’ Association
Đỗ Lai Thúy has a long background in literary criticism and editing various journals including Etudes Vietnamienes and Văn hóa Nghệ thuật (Culture and Arts). Here he reviews literary criticism in Vietnam through the 20th century. A roundtable discussion on the book was organized at L’Espace Hanoi in February with the participation of the author.
Biography and Memoir
Tiếng Sóng Bủa Ghềnh – Hôi Ức Ngô Thị Huệ (Tập 1)
(The Sound of the Waterfall – a memoir by Ngô Thị Huệ, Vol.1)
Authors: Ngô Thị Huệ, Hàn Song Thanh, Ngô Phụng Ánh
Publisher: Youth Publishing House (NXB Trẻ)
This is the first volume of the memoir of Madame Ngô Thị Huệ, the wife of former Communist Party of Vietnam Secretary-General Nguyễn Văn Linh. The book recounts various experiences of Madame Huệ, a rural girl who joined the revolution at the age of 17, through the different stages of her life.
Phạm Thanh Tâm’s diary of the famous Việt Minh victory over French colonial forces has been published in France. The author, a famous war artist, was there as a 22-year old reporter. As Le Point notes, few of the many books on the battle published in France give the story from the perspective of the winners.
French historian Alain Ruscio’s book on Võ Nguyên Giáp was written between 1979 and 2008 based on interviews with the General, who recently celebrated his 100th birthday, as well as other materials gathered by the author. The book presents his writings, speeches and historic reports, divided into five sections focusing on General Giáp’s life as a teacher of history, a patriotic youth, a guerrilla, a revolutionary theorist and a revolutionary practioner in Vietnam’s successive wars. It was launched during Anti-Colonialism Week in France.
US veteran and poet Bruce Weigl’s story of the adoption and raising of his Vietnamese daughter Hanh. Translated by Hanh herself, this is a companion piece to his book of poetry After the Pounding Rain (Sau mưa thôi nã đạn) that was published in a bilingual edition late last year, with translation by poet Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai.
Trào lưu xã hội dân chủ ở một số nước phương Tây hiện nay
(The current social democratic movement in some Western countries)
Co-Editors: Tống Đức Thảo, Bùi Việt Hương
Publisher: National Political Publishing House
Traces the origins and development of this movement as well as expected future trends and the relevance of such civil society movements to Vietnam. This is presented as a topic of significant theoretical and practical importance related to the major trends and dynamics of modern capitalism and socialism.