about hanoi ink

Exploring Vietnamese books and writing and the old book shops of Hanoi.

Ten years in this city. A colleague recently asked for recommendations on local writers and poets, and I realized how patchy my knowledge is. I hedged, claiming a preference of the obscure and un-systematic: living in Hanoi but reading South African poets and West African novelists, observing local writing mainly in my peripheral vision. But it got me thinking.

Not long after arriving, grappling with the experience of living in this incredible city, I had tried to capture this idea: “I live here, surrounded by all this, to reflect on other times and places. Life unfolds elsewhere.”

Maybe it was my attempt at d’engage, riffing on the character of Fowler in the The Quiet American. But referencing famous international sojourners like Graham Greene is not my primary intention here. I mean to throw myself as deeply as I can into the possibilities of the old book shops of Hanoi. Vietnamese literature in all its forms. And to somehow chart my discoveries.

Many of my days over the past decade have ended with dirty fingers, testament to hours lost wandering old shophouses on obscure streets searching for chance discoveries, hunting out old stories, following up leads. I have the scars to prove it, lessons learned hard but also good friends and a house full of music and well-loved old guitars.

Now my dirty fingers are itchy for some books. Hanoi ink.

Hanoi, September 2010


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