more southern treasure
On the way to Tân Sơn Nhất airport in HCM City after a short work trip, Hanoi Ink spends some all-too-brief moments at the second hand book shop at 184b Lê Văn Sỹ.
Directed as usual to the English-language section by the reserved but helpful staff, I found quite a selection of fiction stacked in rows two- or even three-deep on the shelves. Many volumes obviously date back to the former American presence in the city, with numerous titles of varying quality printed in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. There are plenty of classic authors and older works, including familiar titles from Bronte, Greene, Melville, Twain (several copies of both Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn), Maughan, Hemingway, a couple of hardback editions of Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell and other similar works. Also J.D. Salinger, not The Catcher in the Rye but one of his other novels.
The shop has quite a large number of older English-learning resources in this section also, particularly versions of classic Western literary works published under the Oxford Bookworms series in abridged form with selected vocabularies for language learners. There are of course newer English-language titles as well—I think I noticed something by Geri Halliwell, formerly of the Spice Girls—and the usual array of Western classics and pulp fiction in translation.
The Vietnamese literature selection didn’t seem too extensive, although once again the practice of stacking books in rows on the shelves made it difficult to know what was really there, and it was easy to imagine some long-sought volume or unknown wonder concealed from sight. I did come across a quite lovely edition of Nguyễn Du’s Truyện Kiều by Nguyễn Khắc Viện, with his French translation placed alongside the Vietnamese text.
I also found a few interesting old poetry anthologies, including one collection of poems from the anti-colonial Cần Vương movement from the late 19th century. And a wonderfully-illustrated Russian children’s book published in Vietnamese by Progress Publishers in Moscow in the 1980s. I was hopeful of adding to my growing collection of Vietnamese Studies back issues edited by Nguyễn Khắc Viện, but the only copy I found—on the topic of Vietnam after 1975—was the French edition.
With my flight departure time looming, I grabbed a few books, including a copy of Last Night I Dreamed of Peace: the Diary of Dang Thuy Tram, translated by Andrew X. Pham and published by Three Rivers Press in New York in 2007. As I noted in a previous post, this was one of the key books missing from my collection of war writings by Vietnamese authors.
I also left with a copy of Jules Roy’s The Battle of Dien Bien Phu, translated from the original French by Robert Baldick, with an introduction by Neil Sheehan, and published by Pyramid Books in New York in 1965. The introduction draws strong parallels between the misplaced optimism of the French generals in the Ist Indochina War and their American counterparts 10 years later in the early- to mid-1960s. Curiously, I also came across several anthologies and books on the Điện Biên Phủ battle in Vietnamese, though basically nothing on the later war in the south.
Other hurried purchases included an “unexpurgated” edition of D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover from 1959, a 1955 translation of the Tao Tê Ching by Lao Tzu, and a wonderful almost folio-sized book on Soviet Russian modernist figurative painter Alexander Deineka (Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Deyneka) with more than 200 large colour prints of his works. The Deineka book is from Aurora Art Publishers in Leningrad, with this English translation published in 1982.
As I left, the proprietors let me know that the shop will only be open at this location for one more month. They need to move by then and do not yet have a new location identified. So if you are in HCM City, think about passing by while you have the chance.