monthly review: march 2011

The annual Phan Chu Trinh Awards for 2010 were announced in Hanoi on 14th March. Nguyen Ngoc, Chairman of the Scientific Council of the Phan Chu Trinh Culture Award, announced the following awards.

1. Vietnamese Studies: Kevin Bowen, American poet and translator, Director of the William Joiner Center, for translation and promotion of Vietnamese literature to the English-speaking world, and Ivo Vasijlev, Czech researcher and translator for his research on Vietnamese ancient heritage and old scripts published in “Nghien Cuu Ve Di San Viet Co” (Studies of the Vietnamese Ancient Heritage, Prague, 1990) as well as translating Ho Chi Minh’s “Nhat Ky Trong Tu” (Prison Diary) into Czech.

2. Education: Professor Hoang Tuy, Vietnamese mathematician, who has worked to improve education in Vietnam.

3. Cultural Studies:  Mr. Lai Nguyen An, researcher in modern Vietnamese literature.

4. Translation:  Pham Gia Thieu for his translation of astrophysicist Trinh Xuan Thuan’s works, and Nguyen Don Phuoc for his translation in the area of economics.

The award ceremony took place on March 24 at the Rex hotel in HCM City. Other related events were also organized in HCM City organized on March including a discussion on education and the market mechanism on March 22 and a conference titled “85 years of Phan Chau Trinh” at the Hoa Sen University on March 23.

Lucky Luke series published in VietnamA conference on “80 Years of Caricature in Vietnam” was organized at L’Espace Hanoi on 9 March. On 16 March, the Belgian comic series Lucky Luke was launched in Vietnam.

Events were organized at Goethe Institute in Hanoi on 19-21 March on typography and German typeface designer Hermann Zapf. And the month ended with a roundtable at L’Epace Hanoi on the life and work of poet Lê Đạt on 31 March.

On March 22, a Poetry night was organized in Hanoi to celebrate the publication of Kevin Bowen’s “Khúc hát thành Cổ Loa” (The Song of Co Loa Citadel) in Vietnam with around 300 people attending.

The 10th anniversary of the death of composer Trịnh Công Sơn was marked in March by fans throughout the country. In addition to various memorial concerts including one in HCM City with the participation American singer Bob Dylan, a street in Hue was named after the composer and at least three commemorative books were released including a collection of his love letters.

Tributes were also made in March to two very different Vietnamese literary figures who recently passed away, both of whom seemed to have had profound—though quite different—impacts on many interested in Vietnamese literature, literary criticism and philosophy.

Professor Hoang Ngoc Hien who passed away in February was the former Director of the highly-regarded Nguyen Du Writing School in Hanoi. A very warm tribute by poet Kevin Bowen, Director of the William Joiner Center and 2010 Phan Chu Trinh award recipient, recalls the contribution of Professor Hien as a critic, teacher and scholar:

His signature essay on the characteristics of Vietnam’s socialist literature could be said to start a critical evaluation of its strengths and especially its weaknesses. He coined a brilliant term to describe it—”văn học phải đạo”—something impossible to translate. It conveys the sense of an always politically correct literature, averse to risk taking and unconventional innovation. That term has become part of the nomenclature of Vietnamese literature. There are few cases in the annals of the history of literature in which, by inventing one single neologism, a writer creates a school of literary criticism all his own.

Phạm Công Thiện, a writer formerly in Dalat and later based outside Vietnam passed away on 8 March. Despite never graduating from high school, he was considered an influential interpreter of Western philosophy and Buddhism in southern Vietnam through his writings and poetry.


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 or other corrections via the comments function.


Book cover: Queen of the TwistNữ Hoàng Nhạc Twist
(Queen of the Twist)
Author: Trần Trung Sáng
Publisher: NXB Lao động
264 pages

Trần Trung Sáng’s Queen of the Twist is a novel about singer Túy Phượng and her famous band Huỳnh Hoa-Túy Phượng. From 1957, Túy Phượng was known in the south as “Miss Orient” or “Miss Lambretta”. She faced many difficulties living in a time of war, following her husband to an area outside Hội An where he was stationed during the 1960s with his battalion. He was captured in battle by the NLF before the Tet Offensive, and she returned to the stage in Saigon. After 1975, she and her husband chose to remain in Saigon. They were reunited, however their relationship remained in a complicated ‘on-and-off’ state until her death in 2001. Though it is many years since she last performed, older Saigonese still remember “The Queen of the Twist”.


Book cover: A Fierce ChildhoodTuổi Thơ Dữ Dội
(A Fierce Childhood)
Author: Phùng Quán
Publisher: NXB Văn Học
72 pages

Author Phùng Quán was born in Hue in 1932 and died in Hanoi in 1995. He joined the resistance against the French at the age of 13, and his 1955 book Vượt Côn Đảo (Escape from Con Dao) about the infamous colonial island prison was one of the first books published in independent north Vietnam. Phùng Quán was a key member of the Nhân Văn Giai Phẩm movement in Hanoi and as a result was banned from publishing from 1958 to 1987, although he kept writing through this period and apparently managed to publish under various pseudonyms. Phùng Quán’s novel A Fierce Childhood, originally published in 1988, has been reprinted numerous times. It was awarded the National Prize in 2007, and has also been made into an award-winning film by director Vinh Sơn. It tells the story of 31 young boys aged 13 and 14 years old who acted as messengers in the war against France. Vietnam’s literary giant Nguyễn Khắc Viện reportedly compared Phùng Quán’s characters to Victor Hugo’s Gavroche, and said that he hoped every Vietnamese child would read the book.


Book cover: Open the window, eyes closedOpen The Window, Eyes Closed
Author: Nguyễn Ngọc Thuần
Publisher: NXB Trẻ
212 pages

This is an English translation published in Vietnam of Nguyễn Ngọc Thuần’s 2009 book Vừa Nhắm Mắt Vừa Mở Cửa Sổ. As I understand from the publisher’s information, this is the first children’s book in Vietnam to address sadness and death in a style imbued with love, compassion and empathy. Nguyễn Ngọc Thuần was formerly a painter, but thanks to this book has now become a noted children’s author. Many adults have also appreciated the book, which some writers have called “The Little Prince” of Vietnam, in a reference to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s famous novella.


Nhắm mắt thấy Paris
(Close my eyes and see Paris)
Author: Dương Thụy
Publisher: NXB Trẻ (Youth Publishing House)
272 pages

Thanks to bestseller/crap novel Eat Pray Love literally millions of Western women are currently (I assume) pursuing romance on the island of Bali. I suppose the men of Paris can now expect a similar visitation of Vietnamese women.


Book Cover: Venice and Gondola RomancesVenise Và Những Cuộc Tình Gondola
(Venice and Gondola Romances)
Author: Dương Thụy
Publisher: NXB Trẻ
348 pages

And the men of Venice as well. Another offering in Dương Thụy’s ongoing series of books based on her travels in Europe. This one channels the famous romance of the canals and gondolas of the city. Currently producing what seems like one or two books each month, the author apparently writes in a casual and light style. The settings of her books would be familiar to Vietnamese people who have had the opportunity to study in Europe.


Book cover: SerenadeDạ Khúc
Author: Ploy – Trần Lê Ngọc Bích
Publisher: NXB Hội Nhà Văn
214 pages

This story from Saigonese mid-20s copywriter and author Ploy was apparently first published online on her blog. The story goes something like this: Princess Gia Tú is in love with Bách, a young aristocrat with a passion for music. After the sudden death of her older brother, she is forced to ascend the throne without time to bid farewell to Bách. Four years later, the now famous singer Bách again meets Gia Tú, who is now engaged to Duy Thức, the close friend of her older brother. Meanwhile, Bách is known to be in a relationship with Nhã Lan, another celebrity. In time secrets are revealed, and it all gets rather complicated: Nhã Lan loved Duy Thức at the time when Gia Tú’s older brother was in love with her. And so on. But there is still a final secret to be revealed.


Short Stories and Collections

Book cover: Ban Van Ngoai Vung Phu SongBạn Văn Ngoài Vùng Phủ Sóng – Bút Ký
(hmm difficult to translate, maybe Literary Friends Beyond the Waves – Sketches)
Author: Hoàng Minh Tường
Publisher: NXB Hội Nhà Văn
356 pages

I heard from a friend that writer Hoàng Minh Tường’s last work, the 2008 historical fiction novel Thời Của Thánh Thần (Time of Saints and Gods) about a Red River family from the time of the August Revolution onwards, had its publishing license revoked shortly after printing. Perhaps for this reason he writes about his latest work that many people have told him that if he is unable to get his work printed, he should just leave it for his grandchildren to publish in another time. However he rejects this, proclaiming that the life of a writer is meaningless if his books are not read. This book is a collection of short stories about people from the world of literature and art, with titles like “Drinking wine with the poet Nguyễn Khoa Điềm”, “The writer Lê Bầu visits China”, “Trịnh Thanh Sơn coming down the mountain from Tam Đảo” and “Looking for the writer Lan Khai”.


Book cover: Ho Sau, Ran, Seo va Tinh YeuHố Sâu, Rắn, Sẹo Và Tình Yêu
(Deep Pit, Snake, Scar and Love)
Author: Nguyễn Quỳnh
Publisher: NXB Trẻ
180 pages

This collection of 8 short stories seems to be rather edgy based on the titles of the stories, which have names like “Deep pit and snake”, “Scar”, “Alone!” and “Useless!” In the excerpt provided by the publisher, the author flings words around brutally in short, sharp phrases: “Scars. Couples having sex. Dead things. Insults…” It creates a certain impression, but I really have no idea what it is all about!


Book cover: Short Stories by Young WritersTruyện Ngắn Trẻ
(Short Stories from Young Writers)
Authors: multiple
Publisher: NXB Trẻ
187 pages

This collection brings together 17 short stories by different writers that previously received the award for Literature by 20 Year Old Writers (Giải Thưởng Văn học Tuổi 20). Author Phan Triều Hải has two stories in the collection, “Always on the road” and “Cat in the northeast monsoon”, while Nguyễn Ngọc Tư is represented with “Taking family photos” and Võ Diệu Thanh is included with the sad story “North wind blowing through Mạch Nha Hamlet”. Other titles include “Pattaya massage”, “Fried beef noodles” and “Her intentions this Saturday”.


Book cover: City CocktailCocktail Thị Thành
(City Cocktail)
Author: Di Li
Publisher: NXB Phụ Nữ
196 pages

This is a collection of 26 articles on life and culture written by young writer Di Li for Sport and Culture Newspaper during the period 2009-2010. She takes a humorous and satirical look at the contemporary urban culture of young people in Vietnam, including people’s addiction to shopping in “Vietnamese go shopping, Chinese benefit”, changes in how the new year is celebrated in “We celebrate Western New Year” (Ta ăn Tết Tây) and “Where is Tet still like it used to be” (Tết đâu còn như xưa nữa), and other articles on celebrity and PR culture, naming children, directness in relationships, and so on.


Book cover: Trapped in ParadiseMắc Kẹt Ở Thiên Đường
(Trapped in Paradise)
Author: Hoàng Anh Tú
Publisher: NXB Văn Học
268 pages

This is a collection of 17 new short stories written by journalist and writer Hoàng Anh Tú, most of which were written in 2010. It was first published in March 2011 and has apparently been a ‘hot topic’ online in forums and blogs, and already popular enough for a second print run in May. These stories for older teens capture aspects of the life of the current young generation in Vietnam: “Young, romantic and witty. Confused, lonely and sad.”


Book cover: Kiss me one more time!Hôn Anh Thêm Một Lần Nữa Nhé!
(Kiss Me One More Time!)
Multiple Authors
Publisher: Nxb Thời Đại
300 pages

“What is love? Love cannot be defined exactly; there are many definitions and each one is valid.” This book explores different meanings and definitions of love: the sweetness and hope of first love, break-ups with their salty tears… Released on the occasion of International Women’s Day on the 3rd of March, it claims to be a handbook for all those who want to love and be loved.



Book cover: Xuan Quynh: Khong Bao Gio La CuoiKhông Bao Giờ Là Cuối – Tuyển Thơ
(Never Finished)
Author: Xuân Quỳnh
Publisher: NXB Hội Nhà Văn
288 pages

Poet Xuân Quỳnh has been described as the preeminent modern female poet in Vietnam, and many of her poems have been translated into English and other languages over the years. She died tragically in 1988 in a car accident together with her husband the poet Lưu Quang Vũ and their 13-year-old son Lưu Quỳnh Thơ. This collection includes a biography as well as a selection of her famous poems such as Thuyền và Biển (The Boat and the Ocean) and Sóng (Wave). The book also includes illustrations by her son Lưu Quỳnh Thơ. A conference on Xuân Quỳnh’s work was organized at L’Espace in Hanoi in late February on the occasion of the release of this collection and a similar collection in French.


History, Commentary and other Selected Non-Fiction

Book cover: Yoshiharu TsuboiNước Đại Nam Đối Diện Với Pháp Và Trung Hoa (1847 – 1885)
(The Great South (Vietnam) Face-to-Face with France and China, 1847-1885)
Author: Yoshiharu Tsuboi
Publisher: NXB Tri Thức
424 pages

Japanese historian and researcher Yoshiharu Tsuboi’s book covers Vietnam’s internal politics and international relations during the 40-year period in which annexation by France was completed, considering the roles of the two main external powers Vietnam was dealing with at that time, and looking at the specific roles of different key individuals and groups in a historical context. Vietnamese intellectuals appear to pay particular attention to this account by a Japanese writer, noting the success of Japan in avoiding colonization by Europe.


Book cover: Answering the Rivers and the MountainsĐáp Lời Sông Núi – Lịch Sử Bằng Hình Ảnh 80 Năm (1931 – 2011)
(Answering the Mountains and the Rivers – 80 Years of Historical Photos, 1931-2011)
Author: Nguyễn Thế Truật
Publisher: NXB Trẻ
510 pages

This book presents a pictorial history of the young people’s movement and activities of the Youth Union in Sài Gòn-Gia Định and HCM City over the past 80 years. The book aims to provide an image of “the glorious generations of young patriots” in the southern city, from the origins of the movement through the formation of the Youth Union up until the present.


Book cover: Hanoi in the eyes of an AmericanHà Nội Trong Mắt Một Người Mỹ
(Hanoi Through the Eyes of an American)
Author: Conor Lauesen
Publisher: NXB Tri Thức
150 pages

As the title indicates, this book records the impressions of Conor Lausesen, an American who lived in Hanoi for three years studying history on a Fulbright grant. The book is divided into 22 chapters covering topics like Vietnamese language, “pavement culture”, bia hơi, the music of Trịnh Công Sơn, business in Vietnam, urban poverty, the Americanization of Vietnam and memories of Christmas in Hanoi. His Yale bio indicates that one of his research areas is “body politics in relation to hygiene and modernity” so there are sure to be some interesting insights here.


Book cover: Nguoi Noi Tieng Khuon Mat RubicNgười Nổi Tiếng: Khuôn Mặt Rubic
(Celebrities: Rubik’s Cube Faces)
Author: Từ Nữ Triệu Vương
Publisher: NXB Thời Đại
304 pages

This book of interviews of famous artists aims to explore the private lives, relationships and struggles of these artists that may exist behind their public personas, fame and riches. Từ Nữ Triệu Vương has a particular focus on interviewing female actors, and the book claims to explore secrets of interest to their fans that have not been revealed before.


Book cover: To Mo Mot Cach Chan ThanhTò Mò Một Cách Chân Thành – Trò Chuyện Với Những Người Nổi Tiếng
(Genuinely Curious  – Talking with Celebrities)
Author: Nguyễn Thị Ngọc Hải
Publisher: NXB Phụ Nữ
228 pages

Journalist Nguyễn Thị Ngọc Hải presents this collection of interviews with 24 celebrities including writer Nguyễn Khải, Professor Trần Hữu Dũng, historian Nguyễn Đình Đầu, journalist Kim Hạnh, Dr. Nguyễn Chấn Hùng, professor and author Larry Berman, Dr. Đỗ Hồng Ngọc, diplomat Mdm. Ton Nu Thi Ninh, writer Nguyễn Quang Sáng and poet Hoàng Cầm. The title is a reference to Larry King’s famed approach to interviewing his guests.



~ by hanoi ink on June 5, 2011.

One Response to “monthly review: march 2011”

  1. I read Vừa Nhắm Mắt Vừa Mở Cửa Sổ when it first came out. Loved it, and I think it’s just as much an adult’s book as a children’s book. I find the translation of the title lacking in the grace of the original though. Rather clumsy in fact. I wonder how the rest of the translation fares. Will have to look into some of the other books on this list too.

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