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A taste of local literature

In an effort to give foreign readers greater access to Vietnamese literature, the Hanoi Publishing House has recently released a bilingual Vietnamese-English anthology of short stories entitled Một Đêm Mưa Trong Thành Phố (A Rainy Night in the City).

The cover of "A Rainy Night in the City", a collection of short stories, released by the Hanoi Publishing House. Photo courtesy of Ho Anh Thai

The publication is sponsored by the Hanoi Department of Information and Communications and is aimed at those who appreciate literature. It is also hoped that it will send Vietnamese literature to prestigious international book fairs in Gothenburg (Sweden), Kolkata (India), and Frankfurt (Germany), among others.

Co-edited by novelist Ho Anh Thai and American writer-poet Paul Christiansen, A Rainy Night in the City includes short stories by authors from different generations.

It features the works of writers prior to the August Revolution in 1945, like To Hoai; those who fought in both the anti-French and US wars, such as Ma Van Khang; writers who fought in the anti-US war, such as Le Minh Khue, Doan Le and To Hai Van; members of the post-war generation, including Tran Thuy Mai and Ho Anh Thai; a large cohort from the 1986 Đổi Mới (Renewal) period, such as Nguyen Huy Thiep, Bao Ninh, Phan Thi Vang Anh, and Nguyen Thi Thu Hue; and even writers who emerged in the early 21st century, like Nguyen Ngoc Thuan.

The anthology also introduces female voices with diverse styles: Doan Le, Le Minh Khue, Phan Thi Vang Anh, Nguyen Thi Thu Hue, Tran Thuy Mai, Y Ban, and Vo Thi Xuan Ha.

The settings of the stories stretch from the capital Hanoi to the northern, central, and southern regions.

From the Red River Delta, they extend over to the northwest highlands (Love Story on a Rainy Night by Nguyen Huy Thiep), and even follow Vietnamese people beyond the country’s borders, to foreign lands.

The authors conjure up memories of the distant past (A Sad Love Story by To Hoai), wartime experiences (A Marker on the Side of the Boat by Bao Ninh), work on construction sites (The Last Rain of the Monsoon by Le Minh Khue), and labouring in the fields (Rice and Salt - by Vo Thi Xuan Ha).

They also capture personal emotions and the drama of family life (A Light that is Always On by Ma Van Khang, The Last Night in Our Double Bed by Doan Le, and Thương by Phan Thi Vang Anh), and even the intermingling of spiritual emotions and secular feelings (Remembrance of the Ylang-Ylang Flower by Tran Thuy Mai, and A Scoop of Holy Water by Ho Anh Thai).

As is often the case in a collection that includes many authors, the editors focused on presenting fresh perspectives and topics that contribute to the existing body of available literature.

The anthology’s explorations include a diversity of subject matter, as described above, and also an emphasis on new styles, as exemplified by a variety of structures, language use, and literary techniques.

Some stories rely on vagaries and mystery to blend fantasy and reality and spark readers’ imaginations by leaving them with questions, some of which have no answers.

Readers will encounter inexplicable phenomena, such as in Cats in a Strange City by To Hai Van, A Scoop of Holy Water by Ho Anh Thai, and Rope Ladder by Nguyen Thi Thu Hue.

Unique narrative forms can also be found in Her Schedule on Saturday by Nguyen Ngoc Thuan.

The co-editor, American writer-poet Christiansen, is also Content Director for Saigoneer, a Saigon-based arts and culture publication. He holds a master’s of fine arts, and his essays and poems have appeared widely in America and Vietnam.

The book relies on the work of many translators in Vietnam and the US. Translators currently living and working in the US, including Rosemary Nguyen, Linh Dinh, Peter Saidel, Wayne Karlin Bac Hoai Tran, and Dana Sachs, as well as Christiansen and novelist Thai, have decided to donate their royalties from the volume to a fund for Vietnam war veterans that contributes to Project Renew, which helps victims of landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) in Quang Tri Province.

Novelist Thai said A Rainy Night in the City may be the first in a series of bilingual Vietnamese-English fiction that takes Vietnamese literature beyond Vietnam’s borders.

Over the past few decades, Vietnamese authors have only reached foreign audiences via the publication of a number of notable works selected and released by foreign publishers.

This anthology is thus significant in being released by a prestigious publisher that actively seeks to introduce quality Vietnamese literature abroad, without waiting passively for foreign publishers.



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