wandering around the western capital
Hanoi Ink visits Cần Thơ in the Mekong Delta
An unexpected work trip to Cần Thơ provided an opportunity for a couple of hours wandering around looking for old book shops. My first destination was Xuân Vinh Book Shop at No. 25 Mậu Thân street. This is a well-known street, however finding the address proved a bit tricky: the first No. 25 on Mậu Thân street I came to was definitely not a book shop! It turns out this street is divided into three parts, and the numbering system basically starts over time. For reference, Xuân Vinh is the third No. 25 on Mậu Thân street, heading away from the city centre.
Xuân Vinh Book Shop at No. 25 Mậu Thân street
The shopkeepers were quite friendly, and I spent quite some time browsing here. Things are a bit chaotic though: books are basically divided into labelled sections, however stock is piled up and it is not really possible to see all the available titles. There are some intriguing stacks of old books piled on shelves up near the ceiling, but they are in pretty rough condition and it is hard to see what they are from ground level.
Predictably there is a major focus on learning resources for students, including a large assortment of high school text books and English-learning materials. The small section on Vietnamese literature and literary criticism seems more focused on poetry than novels, and is located next to a shelf full of histories of local chapters of the Party. There is the usual assortment of Russian books, both in their original language and in translation, including novels as well as a few volumes of the collected works of Marx and Engels in translation. A full wall of dictionaries of different ages and thicknesses rounds things out, including a couple of Viet-M’nong dictionaries that I had not seen before. There is very little in English here aside from the learning materials.
Books stacked up in Xuân Vinh Book Shop
On a random stack I found a Russian children’s book, Cardboard Clock Square, by Leonid Yakhinin, translated into English by Fainna Glagolera. Evgeny Monin is the illustrator. It is one of several books that I have come across recently in different book stores published in English by Progress Publishers in Moscow in the 1970s and 1980s. I will write more on these books and their publisher later in a separate entry (update: done!).
I also found a series of small poetry books from a series by a local publishing house. I selected three volumes covering Hồ Xuân Hương, Tố Hữu and Tế Hanh.
Hard to reach this pile of old books
Next stop was Đường 3/2. I had heard that this street has several second-hand book shops, mostly catering to students at the nearby university. In the end I only found two shops here, both dealing exclusively in new books, despite an old sign outside Kim Hường Book Shop stating “we buy and sell old books, newspapers”.
I travelled a bit further down Đường 3/2 and around the corner into Trần Ngọc Quê street to Minh Dũng book shop. This shop also has a student focus, with mostly new stock on displayed on tables, interspersed with stacks of second-hand textbooks, novels and magazines. Apparently the former owner, Mr. Trần Minh Dũng, started the shop decades ago on the pavement with an initial investment of 70,000 Vietnam Dong, buying and reselling used books and magazines. I saw another address online for Minh Dũng Book Shop on Đường 3/2, but have not yet been able to determine if this is a separate shop, perhaps dealing more in second-hand books, or whether that shop has relocated to Trần Ngọc Quê street.
There is nothing particularly old here, but I did take a moment to browse a row of second-hand English-language titles, mostly hardbacks in near-new condition from writers like David Baldacci and John Grisham. Visitors to Cần Thơ take note: there is also quite a selection of second-hand books in English on blackjack, billiards and gambling scams.
One book that caught my eye at both Kim Hường and Minh Dũng was the Vietnamese edition of Ken Kesey’s novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Bay Trên Tổ Chim Cúc Cu). It was translated by Nguyễn Anh Tuấn and Lê Đình Chung and published by the Vietnam Literature Association and Nhã Nam company in 2010. I suppose at this point I really should cease to be surprised at the range of materials making their way into Vietnamese.
With a little spare time remaining I went looking for a couple of other old book vendors mentioned online, but either they had moved, or closed, or I was unable to work out the street numbering. On a suggestion via Twitter (thanks @phillip_arthur!) I called by Phương Nam Book Shop on Hòa Bình street, which has an enormous range of new books as well as a large and very slick Book Cafe on the top floor. This is one of the most impressive book shops I’ve seen in Vietnam, with a lot of customers in the shop on a Wednesday evening. The layout and approach have more than a nod to big international chains like Borders and Kinokuniya; let’s hope that spaces like this survive the new group of online book sellers in Vietnam such as VinaBook.com, Tiki.vn, SaharaVN.com and SachCuOnline.com.