18:29′ 06/09/2008 (GMT+7)

VietNamNet Bridge – Overseas Vietnamese lecturer Doan Cam Thi, who teaches Vietnamese literature at the University Paris 7 – Denis Diderot, has translated books by young Vietnamese writers into French. Thi talks about her work as well as her latest translation, the Au rez-de-chaussee du paradis (Heaven’s Ground Floor), which was published in France recently.

It’s can be said that Au rez-de-chaussee du paradis is the first collection of short stories by young Vietnamese writers to be widely published in France. Why did you decide to translate this book?

Although my main work revolves around research, criticism and lectures on modern Vietnamese literature, I became interested in the work of young writers since 2002. These writers include Phan Thi Vang Anh, Ngo Tu Lap, Phan Trieu Hai, Nguyen Trong Nghia and Nguyen Ngoc Tu. The more I read their work, the more fascinated I am by them. In addition, many of these writers say they want to have a chance to access more readers, other than Vietnamese readers. That’s why I want to present them to French readers. The Au rez-de-chaussee du paradis collection features 14 short stories by 14 young Vietnamese writers.

What challenges did you face in selecting the stories as well as in translating them?

I have to stress that to present the collection to French readers is not a simple task. First at all, I had to find a publishing house that would agree to take a risk and back the project. When I persuaded the director of the Philippe Picquier publishing house, Philippe Picquier, to publish the book, he did not hide his doubts over the book’s success, and asked me: “Give me a reason why I should publish this book?”

The book has been welcomed by French readers and that’s evidence that I made the right decision. The book has attracted a large number of French readers as well as readers in other Francophone countries.

Can you tell us more about the French readers’ reaction to the book?

Telerama, the biggest weekly cultural and art magazine in France, described the collection as a breath of fresh air from a distant land. They wrote that “there are not many French people who know much about distant Viet Nam, but this country is coming back, bringing a fresh breath in the form of a collection of literature about [Vietnamese people’s] dreams and fears.”

The Amazon website placed the book in its list of French best-sellers about Viet Nam. Many readers have said that the diverse writing styles in the collection makes each story in the book interesting in its own way, worth reading and contemplating.

What will be your next translation?

I am now working on the novel China Town by Thuan. The book is expected to be published in French by the Seuil publishing house next year. Along with Nguyen Binh Phuong and Nguyen Viet Ha, Thuan is one of the best Vietnamese writers at the moment.

Following the success of Au rez-de-chaussee du paradis, how do you evaluate Vietnamese literature’s standing in the world?

Vietnamese literature has became “younger” thanks to a growing number of young writers and critics, including the those who were born in the 1980s. Their works presents their desires, which often include adventure and discovery. In my opinion, that is a positive sign and I’m optimistic about the future of Vietnamese literature. Being a Vietnamese reader, I hope Vietnamese literature will be in harmony with the world’s literature.

You have been living in France for more than 20 years. What are your observations on the life of Vietnamese-French writers?

Almost all of them left Viet Nam many years ago, but they always have a sense of nostalgia in their heart for their homeland.

(Source: VNS)

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The Spy Of Saigon

December 13, 2007

The Spy Of Saigon
David A. Andelman, 12.11.07, 2:30 PM ET

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A review of Perfect Spy: The Incredible Double Life of Pham Xuan An, Time Magazine Reporter and Vietnamese Communist Agent by Larry Berman, ($26 Smithsonian Books, 2007).

In November, 1974, in preparation for my departure for Saigon as correspondent for The New York Times, I traveled to Washington for some interviews, including one at the Central Intelligence Agency. I remember that conversation as though it were yesterday–in a small windowless room, with a 40-something gentleman whose name was never divulged. I remember it because it all came true.

At that time, the war in Vietnam was over–as far as America was concerned. South and North Vietnam had been created at peace talks in Paris, much like North and South Korea–nations that it seemed possible might exist for decades if not centuries, side by side, eying each other suspiciously but with neither anxious to blink first.

That was not the Vietnam my CIA interlocutor envisioned however. “I cannot tell you for sure when it will come apart, but it will,” he began. “Here’s what you must look for. First, there will be a small skirmish somewhere in the Central Highlands between the ARVN (our guys) and the Viet Cong. It will not be considered a very big deal. It will probably happen in a place like Phuoc Long or Ban Me Thuot, someplace in the Central Highlands. That will fall easily, then the whole province. Then Vietnam main force units will move down Highway One. They will meet little or no resistance. In days they will be at the gates of Saigon. It will all be over very quickly.” He leaned back, smugly, knowing he had shocked me. Frankly, I told him, I don’t believe it. Every expert I’d consulted believed it would be a slow, gradual erosion. The outcome was never in doubt. But certainly not in the two or three years I’d be based in Saigon. The CIA officer shrugged.

En route to Saigon, Jim Greenfield, The Times’ foreign editor, asked me to stop off in Phnom Penh to hook up with Syd Schanberg, who for years had been covering the Cambodian end of the war. “Just to get the hang of things in case you have to go in and spell him.” On Dec. 14, 1974, I awoke to hear the BBC on the shortwave announcing matter-of-factly the victory of Viet Cong forces in a small town in the Central Highlands–Phuoc Long. An isolated event, the news reader Pippa Harden was calmly proclaiming. I knew better. This was it. The balloon was going up. No one believed me of course, least of all my editors in New York who no doubt thought I had lost my mind.”

Still, by Jan. 7, all of Phuoc Long Province was in communist hands. And just as my anonymous analyst had predicted, North Vietnamese main force units were on the move. Next stop: Ban Me Thuot. On March 10, the attack on this village in the heart of the Central Highlands began. (The North Vietnamese were moving a tad more cautiously than my analyst predicted, holding their breath for a massive American response from B52 bombers, which never came.) Ban Me Thout crumbled in two days. Next stop Pleiku. By April 9, North Vietnamese troops were pouring onto Highway One, headed for Saigon. The fourth largest standing army in the world (the ARVN, armed by the United States) was crumbling by the hour.

In Saigon, everyone began heading for the exits. On April 29, 1975, those Americans still remaining in Saigon awoke to the strains of Bing Crosby singing Irving Berlin’s “A White Christmas” on Armed Forces Radio. It was the signal from the American Embassy. Last chance. To the choppers. The communists were at the gates.

Inside those gates sat one man who, more than any other, had made this moment possible, as Larry Berman recounts in his riveting book, Perfect Spy.

For nearly 20 years An was North Vietnam’s master spy–and at the same time ace correspondent for, successively Reuters and Time magazine, functioning as well as a funnel of information for everyone from The New Yorker‘s Robert Shaplen to David Halberstam and Neil Sheehan to reporters from every American television network and correspondents from Australia to France. Along the way, he saved the lives of some, kept others from making catastrophic errors of fact and judgment–all the time, passing critical strategic and tactical information to those in the communist military hierarchy to whom he owed his true and ultimate allegiance.

The outlines of Phan Xuan An’s story are well known. He was “unmasked” within a few years of the North Vietnamese victory, lionized in the Vietnamese (communist) press, awarded a host of decorations and publicly promoted to the rank of General in the Vietnamese army. But here, for the first time, in his own voice and that of his family and closest friends, is the real life and times of An … or is it?

Dispatched by his North Vietnamese handlers in his 20s to study journalism in California, An’s lifelong mission was to study America and the Americans, learn what motivated them, learn of their actions and, by a deep understanding of their motives, anticipate their next move and the move after that. All this enabled the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese military to stay many steps ahead of anything the Americans could do to their country and whatever military might they could throw at them.

Yet at times it seemed, as Professor Berman astutely points out, that An was working at counter-purposes to his communist masters. During the fall of Saigon, he helped important members of the South Vietnamese government to escape and routinely failed or refused to pass disinformation to important American and other foreign journalists–disinformation that might have substantially influenced public opinion or indeed the course of the war itself.

Having lived in Asia for three years, the birthplace of my son 30 years ago, and maintained a lifelong fascination with the people, their cultures and society, I know that there are always in that part of the world stories within stories. Peel away layers, begin opening the boxes, ever smaller, within other boxes, and you will find more–but rarely all–of the truth. This is what Larry Berman has sought, quite effectively, to do. But he is a fine enough scholar of the region to admit that ultimately despite all his efforts and great talent that he brought to bear on this subject, there might still be secrets that An took to his grave with him. (He died of emphysema on Sept. 20, 2006, eight days after his 79th birthday.)

The questions that remain unanswered cut to the heart of the decades of war, first against the French then against the Americans, and the nature of the society it produced. Might An ultimately have served multiple masters–his own nation, first and foremost, but also the CIA (where he maintained many friends) or the American embassy? Certainly he served well and effectively Time magazine–the beneficiary of innumerable “scoops” from An who most considered by far the best informed journalist in Saigon for decades. But he was also a close enough friend of CIA head William Colby that this master spy asked to see An on both of his visits to Vietnam after the communist takeover.

In the end, Perfect Spy is far more than the much-told story of Pham Xuan An. It is the story of the enormous catastrophe that was Vietnam, the decades of errors in judgment and policy by a host of successive administrations on all sides, and ultimately the personal story of a compelling individual–a study of loyalty and friendship. While Professor Berman writes that An’s real loyalty was to his people and his country, perhaps as he also suggests, he owed his ultimately loyalty only to himself.

David A. Andelman, executive editor of Forbes.com, is the author of A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today.

Last Night I Dreamed of Peace

Claire Scobie, reviewer
October 22, 2007

 

Last Night I Dreamed of PeaceLast Night I Dreamed of Peace

At the end of 1966, a young Vietnamese doctor shouldered a heavy backpack and joined a group of civilians heading south down the Ho Chi Minh trail. Dang Thuy Tram had taken up the call and volunteered to work in a Viet Cong battlefield hospital in central Vietnam. For the next three years, Thuy – as she was known – recorded her private thoughts, hopes and fears in a series of diaries, now translated into English.

Situated in a “liberation area”, a prime target for the American forces, those “blood thirsty devils”, Thuy’s thatched-roof clinic frequently came under violent assault. When a patient died under her hand – usually because of the appalling surgical conditions in which she had to operate – she blamed herself. This 25-year-old was no hardened veteran; she was the middle-class daughter of a Hanoi family of doctors. Beautiful, intelligent, with a fragile heart, Thuy describes herself as the “dreamy girl” and “Miss Stubborn, difficult to please”.

At school, “all the boys were a little in love” with her; at her makeshift hospital, the soldiers whom she treats become her admirers. Thuy had a great need for love – and to be loved – but her connection with these young revolutionaries, her “brothers”, was innocent. Borne out of the brutal crucible of war, it was “a miraculous love … that makes people forget themselves”. She captured the heart of many but Thuy had eyes for only one – a mysterious soldier called “M”, whom she had loved since her mid-teens. When he spurns her, she asks plaintively: “Why is a wound in the heart so hard to heal?”

This current of tenderness is in stark contrast to the backdrop of war – bombs raining down, planes screaming overhead and a jungle frazzled by Agent Orange. She stumbles across villages reduced to shells and, as the Americans advance, escapes death many times. Her medical training is rendered useless when a soldier, hit by a white phosphorous bomb, is admitted with “pieces of his skin falling off, curled up like crumbling sheets of rice cracker”. Under such circumstances, it’s extraordinary that Thuy manages to be lyrical.

But there’s much about this work that is remarkable – the intimacy of reading someone else’s private thoughts; the insight into a young physician who doubts, questions and chastises herself, especially when she falls short of being the selfless communist cadre. And then there’s the diary’s own journey to publication. Found in 1970 by an American intelligence officer, Fred Whitehurst – who, against regulations, took the diaries home – they sat in his filing cabinet for more than 20 years before Whitehurst’s brother, also a Vietnam vet, translated them.

In April 2005 they were returned to Thuy’s family and, even more improbable, when the two men arrived in Hanoi four months later, they were adopted as “sons” and “brothers” by Thuy’s surviving mother and sisters. By then the diaries had been published and become a runaway bestseller in Vietnam. Eighteen months later 430,000 copies had been sold.

It isn’t always an easy read. The footnotes ground the content but they hinder the flow of the narrative. The diaries themselves with their sentimental, unburdened style require a certain openness by the reader to meet Thuy in all her darkest – and brightest – places. There’s no holding back. By 1970 Thuy has matured and is prepared to die for her country and clinic. With the Americans pouring in from all sides, Thuy is forced to evacuate the wounded, constantly building new shelters in the jungle. When there is nowhere left to run, she waits, “searching for the enemy’s approach”.

This is an important and profoundly moving book, which redresses the one-sided macho and gun-toting coverage of the Vietnam War. For Whitehurst, it brought him relief after years of bitterness as a Vietnam vet. “Human to human [he] fell in love with her” – it’s not hard to see why.

This story was found at: http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2007/10/22/1192940938852.html

The things she carried

September 25, 2007

The things she carried

Karen Solie is the author of the poetry collections Short Haul Engine and Modern and Normal.

TREE OF SMOKE

By Denis Johnson

Farrar, Straus & Giroux,

624 pages, $31

Print Edition – Section Front

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getSLinks(“topStoriesInSection”,”LAC.20070922.BKTREE22″,5); The Globe and Mail

The author of three collections of poems, six novels and a book each of reportage and plays, Denis Johnson is still probably best known for Jesus’ Son, a terrific collection of stories made into a less terrific, but still pretty good, movie. Tree of Smoke isn’t, perhaps, as overtly winsome. At 600-plus pages, it’s not only an extremely long novel, it’s an extremely long Vietnam novel, which might generate doubt that this particular vein is close to being tapped out. But do not be deterred. Admirers of Johnson’s work will find their enthusiasm reaffirmed and Tree of Smoke will win him new ones.

Johnson has always been interested in disappointment. His characters, through the sad alchemy of bad choices and worse luck, tend to find themselves in its heartland. Inside all the anger, grief and loneliness, persistent as a national anthem, is a profound confusion at how things have ended up. His books burn with it, his best characters like the man in his poem The Incognito Lounge, who’s “out on the generous lawn/ again, looking like he’s made/ out of phosphorous.”

Often in his work, confusion slides into absurdity, and when Johnson’s on his game, this is translated with acute insight and wicked humour into insanely perfect similes and dialogue that’s both natural and inventive. He can also be a tremendously compassionate writer, adept at communicating not only what his characters think, but how and why they do, rejecting cynicism’s easy out. As this work demonstrates, evoking real disillusionment, rather than simply describing it, is only possible if ideas of hope and redemption are also sincerely thought. If they count for more than plot devices. Something important needs to be at stake.

Tree of Smoke follows William (Skip) Sands, a neophyte spy involved in psychological operations against the Viet Cong. The particulars of this campaign are unknown to him – or, one begins to suspect, to anyone. At the centre is Skip’s uncle, a hard-boiled all-American former war hero known as the Colonel. Unsure of his relationship with the man and the myth, woolly on even the nature of his postings, Skip’s nominal task is to collate and cross-reference the Colonel’s enormous repository of notes. A strange cloud of information, anecdotes, quotations and philosophy, it forms the dubious backbone to an operation code-named Tree of Smoke.

B. S. (Jimmy) Storm is the Colonel’s devoted right-hand man, a “tough little lunatic” totally into the potential of psychological terror. But when the Colonel’s banal demise exposes a dumb nest of aimless deception, Skip embarks on his mundane downfall, and Jimmy flares out into the jungle trailing a comet tail of manic delusion.

Another branch of the novel is the story of the Houston brothers, Bill and James, who wander aimlessly into a war where at least, James figures, “people would tell him what to do.” Faced with a total absence of moral responsibility in the name of moral responsibility, the brothers are delivered home to the Arizona desert without purpose or direction. Also in play is Kathy Jones, a Canadian missionary aid worker with whom Skip has an affair and whom he loves poorly and obliquely. And there’s Trung Than, the Vietnamese double agent, and his duplicitous cousin Hao. The novel is thick with doubles: the Williams Houston and Sands, and James Sands and Jimmy Storm are only the obvious ones. Betrayals, real, imagined and both, abound, everyone is working under false or secret offices. Even Kathy has misgivings about her God.

The novel opens on the news of JFK’s assassination. Each section contains one year, 1963 through 1970, with a coda set in 1983. Saigon falls silently in the gap. And while the obvious parallels between U.S. involvement in southeast Asia and in the Middle East are important, they never jam the plot, which roars along on the fuel of Johnson’s language. A significant passage on the Tet Offensive nearly causes hearing loss.

Conversations have a surreal, claustrophobic quality that can only be achieved through precision. Clarity is what makes the craziness real. As with the Colonel, who “removed his sunglasses and succeeded in staring the whole platoon in the eye at once.” Or the one-legged deserter who tells him, “My invisible foot hurts.” Who left China Beach and its “smiley gung-ho physical therapy.” Who says, “I like to drink and cry and take pills.”

Skip Sands describes himself as “a young American who thought of himself as the Quiet American and the Ugly American, and who wished to be neither, who wanted instead to be the Wise American, or the Good American, but who eventually came to witness himself as the Real American and finally as simply the Fucking American.”

Alongside the references to Graham Greene’s novel and Lederer and Burdick’s incendiary 1958 book, Tree of Smoke references and suggests Conrad and Melville, Orwell and Antonin Artaud, Kubrick and Coppola. Its questions make the war’s lessons in disillusionment and bad faith worth returning to. How is one to act, for example, when confronted with deliberate misinformation? Or with a nasty mix of luck and circumstance? In the novel, choices based on delusion lead to chaos and destruction, but casualties also result when choices are deferred until no more remain.

Ultimately, it’s Kathy who’s left to carry the burden of grief, lame from what she’s learned and the choices she’s made, but persisting. She’s rejected the doctrine of predestination, that some are born saved, some damned. The possibility for redemption arrived at is simple, resonant and unqualified, as necessary as breathing. Though, as Johnson indicates, to maintain hope and to act out of it can be the most difficult vocation of all.

If Tree of Smoke is your first Denis Johnson book, you can find out what happens to Bill Houston by reading Angels, his first novel. Then read more, since Johnson is one of the best American writers now working. And don’t forget his poetry.

Q&A Bich Minh Nguyen

March 28, 2007

 

Author of “Stealing Buddha’s Dinner,” assistant professor of creative writing, Purdue University

 

 

Bich Minh Nguyen is a Vietnamese-American whose family fled its homeland in the last moments before the fall of Saigon in 1975, settling in Grand Rapids, Mich. Today, the 32-year-old teaches creative writing at Purdue University and has just published her first book, “Stealing Buddha’s Dinner: A Memoir,” which has received national media attention, landing its author on NPR and in The New York Times.

“People are really interested in food. I think that’s an obsession that most people have, what food represents. Most people have a nostalgic feeling toward food… what foods marked their childhood.” Bich Minh Nguyen – Matt Detrich / The Star

Bich Minh Nguyen

Hometown: Grand Rapids, Mich.

Education: MFA, University of Michigan, 1998.

Other professional achievements: Author, “Stealing Buddha’s Dinner: A Memoir,” published February 2007.

Excerpts from “Stealing Buddha’s Dinner”

“The anxiety of what to pack weighed on me every school week. The key was to have at least one shining element: a plain sandwich and baggie of potato chips could be made tolerable with the right dessert snack. If the planets and grocery sales aligned in my favor, I might even have a Hostess Cupcake. All morning I would look forward to peeling away the flat layer of deep chocolate frosting decorated with one lovely white squiggle. This I set aside while I ate the cake, licking out the cream filling, sighing over the richness, the darkness of the crumbs. Then at last I could focus on the frosting, taking small bites around the white squiggle, which must always be saved as long as possible. I imagined careful bakers hovering over each cupcake, forming the curlicue design with unerring precision. Beneath the status of Hostess cupcakes were Ho Hos, Ding Dongs, Devil Squares, Zingers and Little Debbie Fudge Brownies. The lower tier, just above generic cookies, included the cloying Oatmeal Creme Pies, SnoBalls, StarCrunches and Twinkies.”

“…(My stepmother) bought whatever white bread was cheapest — sadly, never the Wonder Bread my friends ate, which I was certain had a fluffier, more luxurious bite — and peanut butter and jelly, olive loaf, or thin packets of pastrami and corned beef made by a company called Buddig. The name drove me crazy, the way it sounded like a stuffed-up nose, and I wanted to rewrite every package to make it Budding.”

The title is drawn from a childhood incident when Bich Nguyen (pronounced “Bit” and “Ngoo-ee-ehn”) stole some fruit from a display her grandmother had set out for Buddha.

It’s also a nod to the American junk food that serves as a cultural metaphor. Nguyen recounts the way she thought she could eat her way to assimilation — she was raised on her grandmother’s traditional Vietnamese fare such as pho (a beef and noodle soup) and shrimp curry, but longed to eat the same Cracker Jacks and Ding Dongs her American classmates unpacked at the lunch table.

“Stealing Buddha’s Dinner,” says Nguyen, is about being multicultural before multicultural was cool. Today, she shares her 1920s frame home near the Purdue campus with husband and fellow writer Porter Shreve, and stacks of books waiting to be read.

You write a lot about junk food, such as Pringles and Hostess CupCakes, in your book. Is this an indictment of American culture?

“I didn’t know it was junk food when I was a child in the 1980s. To me it was magical food. I thought it was fantastic. I thought it was exotic and beautiful and wonderful. It’s only as an adult that we can look back and say that’s bad. That’s junk food. But at the time it represented everything that was possible.”

How long did it take you to write your book?

“It started six or seven years ago when I was just writing a series of essays that I didn’t know was going to become a book. Those were just some discrete essays about immigration and childhood and food. It was about two years ago that it really came together as a book.”

When did you start writing?

“For fun? When I was seven or eight. Pretty realistic narratives. Serious writing? It was in my freshman year (of college) that I took my first creative writing class. That was my first introduction into workshop, opening myself up to critique, and reading short-story writers such as Charles Baxter and Stuart Dybek.”

Who are your major literary influences?

“I would definitely count those two. Probably because they were among the first two I read. I would also say Tobias Wolff. Maxine Hong Kingston. And definitely writers like Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy and Dickens. I really like the old literature. (The latter) taught me a lot about narrative and how character and plot are tied together.”

What are you hearing from your readers?

“I get a lot of e-mails from people, and they say, ‘This is me, and we are totally different people. I’m not Vietnamese and I didn’t grow up in Michigan. But we had much the same experience.’ I think that’s wonderful. It makes me feel really good to get those kinds of comments.”

Why do you think you’re getting so many interviews?

“For one thing, people are really interested in food. I think that’s an obsession that most people have, what food represents. Most people have a nostalgic feeling toward food . . . what foods marked their childhood. I think childhood is such an interesting place to explore. Everyone has a childhood. Usually our personalities or what will become our real personalities are formed when we are kids.”

You teach creative writing at Purdue. Do your students truly love to write, or do they just want to be famous?

“I think if you just want the glory it’s going to be very difficult to be a good writer. There’s very little glory involved, almost none, and whatever occurs is going to be very short-lived. You have to be in it for the craft of writing and for the dedication to reading. The mistake many of my students make is they don’t read enough.”

How many hours a week do you devote to writing?

“I know a lot of writers who get up early and write for two or three hours. That sort of discipline is wonderful, and I wish I had it. I work whenever I can. I need to have a schedule, and I need to go to sleep so I can get up at 5 a.m., but it’s not happening to me.”

What is the hardest part of writing?

“For me it’s letting it go. Being finished. I would just write and rewrite without stopping.”

How do you deal with rejection?

“It’s just common and normal. You just can’t feel bad about it. It’s often a matter of taste and style. You’ve just got to keep going. Rejection is absolutely integral to the whole process and business of writing. It’s a rite of passage . . . A handwritten personal rejection can actually make you feel good. Someone actually read your work and felt strongly enough about it to actually write you a personal note.”

What is your next book going to be about?

“I’m finishing a novel right now. ‘Short Girls.’ “

Is it autobiographical?

“Just in the title. It’s actually set in Michigan and Chicago. It’s about two sisters and their families. The two sisters are very short, and they don’t get along. Their father is a failed inventor of products to improve the lives of short people.”

Call Star reporter Abe Aamidor at (317) 444-6472.


17:09 13/09/2006

Soạn: AM 894883 gi đến 996 để nhn ảnh này
Prof. Van Phu Quang (right).

VietNamNet Bridge – Working as a professor of philosophy and Southeast Asian studies at Yale University, Van Phu Quang has introduced Vietnamese literature to many American students.

Arriving in the US when he was only 17, Quang pursued his PhD studies at Oregon University. Since 1999, Quang has been professor of philosophy and Southeast Asian studies at Yale University. In his trip back to Hue, Quang spent time talking to the press about how Vietnamese literature was introduced in American universities.

Quang has selected many aspects of Vietnamese literature to introduce to his students such as wars, post war time, poems for meditation from historical periods.

Quang also talks to his students about the images of Vietnamese farmers in literature, female images through the symbolic wings of storks in Vietnamese folk poems.

What Quang desires is to give American students chances to make comparisons between different cultures. Through his lectures, American-Vietnamese have been given opportunities to learn about their origin and their homeland.

Which Vietnamese books or works of literature are American students most interested in?

When talking about Vietnamese literature, American people usually think of Truyen Kieu by Nguyen Du (The Tale of Kieu), and poems written by the famous female poet Ho Xuan Huong.

In the late 1950s, Yale had a Vietnamese professor, Huynh Sanh Thong, who was the pioneer in introducing and studying Vietnamese literature in America. He was the founder of Vietnam Forum magazine which has been published by Yale’s Council of Southeast Asian studies. Truyen Kieu, Cung Oan Ngam Khuc and a collection of Vietnamese poems were well translated by Huynh Sanh Thong.

Many American readers have not only been surprised by the great content of the book but also by the wonderful translation. For his efforts, in 1996, Prof. Huynh Sanh Thong was awarded a McArthur Fellowship, a prestigious award granted to people who have made great contributions in the field of social sciences and humanities in America.

Many Vietnamese and American readers know about Prof. John Balaban, who successfully translated Ho Xuan Huong poems into English. 20,000 books of the English version of her poems have been sold, which is seen as a great record in the selling of books of poems in America.

What about Vietnamese contemporary literature, including overseas Vietnamese literature?

Vietnamese contemporary literature is not yet popular in the US as the number of books having been translated is very limited. In my opinion, we now can rely on Vietnamese-American authors who can write books in English.

During the last 15 years, many books have been written by Vietnamese-American authors like Nguyen Kien, Monique Truong, Andrew Xuan Pham, Le Thi Diem Thuy, Uyen Nicole Duong, Andrew Lam, Nguyen Quy Duc.

They are the new generation of professional Vietnamese-American authors and have been well trained with writing skills in America. They are not just refugees or Vietnamese-American as their thinking is not limited to that degree.

In their stories, I can sense that they have overcome the boundary of just describing the successes of Asian legends in American society to console the sorrows of being away from the homeland that at the early stage of integration into the American community.

They have mentioned the obsession of losing their origins but at the same time they have the feeling like they want to lose it. In the words of post modernism they have crossed the border of the tradition frame.

While contemporary Vietnamese literature is not yet popular in America, what have you done to introduce prominent issues of contemporary Vietnamese literature to your students?

I think it is most effective if we introduce Vietnamese literature from different angles to best describe smaller parts of such topics. Issues to be spoken about should be placed in appropriate contexts. For example, it would be too rambling if in only one lecture we talk about Vietnamese culture in general. But if we just talk about Vietnamese culture which is described in the Tale of Kieu then students will have a better focus.

In America, professors are solely responsible for their lectures. For example when I gave lectures on the poems on meditation issues in the historical time I had to select poems myself to prepare for my students. At the end of each semester, students give assessments on the lectures that their professors prepare for them. At Yale, assessments are open for all students so that they can decide which classes and which lectures they want to attend.

Which aspects of Vietnamese culture impress American students?

As I have experienced, I think the Vietnamese concepts of family would be the most impressive issue for American students. Second is the Vietnamese culture of food. Many students have told me that they learn about the Vietnamese cultural identity from the culture of dining. Besides that they are also interested in tones of Vietnamese language. That is why I have come back to Vietnam many times since 2000 to study and find more examples of sound, voices of different dialects of Vietnamese language in the north, South and the central region to introduce to my students.

I have done this because I realised I had ignored the tones of different Vietnamese dialects while paying too much concentration on the popular language of Vietnamese only. Because of this many Vietnamese-Americans found that their original language had not been respected.

Currently in America, 14 universities and colleges have Vietnamese language training programmes. These universities and colleges have gathered and formed an association called “GUAVA”. The association grants 12 scholarships for teachers and students of Vietnamese language to study in Hanoi and Saigon every summer.

What would help exchanges between Vietnamese and American students to be developed?

I believe that Vietnamese-Americans will never forget their homeland, even if they were born in America. In my case, as I wish to have more opportunities to communicate and work with Vietnamese universities, I decided to work for Yale University.

 

It was lucky that Yale and Hue Universities had a memorandum for an exchange programme between the two. The cooperation has enabled students of the two universities to learn about the two countries. It has especially helped Vietnamese-American students to have chances to study and experience Vietnamese culture in their home country.

Yale is one of the 10 universities in America which decides whether to accept student’s before assessing their financial availability. 50% of Yale students get support from the university. Currently one of the university’s interests is attracting Vietnamese students and I will try my best to provide support to Vietnamese students who wish to pursue their studies at Yale.

September 03, 2006
Roberta Rosenberg

Rebecca’s Journey Home
Michelle Shapiro
Book, Not yet published
Buy now from Amazon.com

“She’ll be Vietnamese and American and Jewish.”

So declares the gleefully excited older brother of baby sister, Rebecca in English, Rivka in Hebrew, formerly Le Tai Hong in Vietnamese, the newest member of the Stein Family via adoption from Vietnam.

Rebecca’s Journey Home is a sweet and heartwarming adoption story that reflects the growing racial and cultural diversity of the American-Jewish community. In fact, adoption is fast becoming a favored choice among Jewish singles and married couples looking to grow their families.

In 1990, the National Jewish Population Survey of the Council of Jewish Federations identified 60,000 adopted Jewish children under age 18 in the US, representing more than 3% of all Jewish children in this country. One quarter of these were born abroad. Today, the numbers and percentages have only increased.

Rebecca’s Journey Home follows a well-trod, familiar storyline popular in children’s literature about adoption. Mrs. Stein, although a proud, happy mother to two boys born to her, decides she wants to parent another baby, this time with a child already born.

There were so many babies and children in the world whose parents had loved them but could not take care of them. Mrs. Stein wanted to be the mother of one of those children.

There are documents to prepare, meetings to attend, and finally the time comes when she will travel to Vietnam to collect her new baby daughter. Mrs. Stein tours a little, shops a little, and emails her family back home while waiting to meet her baby. After a time, Mrs. Stein and Rebecca arrive home to the US to an excited and happy family. (It would have been a nice touch if the story had included the Giving and Receiving Ceremony which finalizes the adoption in the Vietnamese provincial court, but that’s a quibble.)

What sets this picture book apart is the focus on traditional Jewish family practice. The Steins observe Shabbat (Sabbath) every Friday evening. Rebecca is formally converted to Judaism with a visit to the mikvah, the ritual bath, where after she is immersed three times, she then receives her Hebrew name, Rivka Shoshanah.

This is a simple story, lovingly told and illustrated. The author has been a preschool, Hebrew and Judaics teacher. Like Mrs. Stein, she has a daughter adopted from Vietnam. Michelle Shapiro’s illustrations move the story along with her cheerful yet evocative drawings. Her renderings of people will remind you a little of Amedeo Modigliani’s work with their longish faces and noses — and it all works.

Rebecca’s Journey Home concludes with a restatement of who Rebecca is. “She is Vietnamese, American, and Jewish.” And Mrs. Stein wisely adds, “And she’ll be many more things someday.”

Very nicely done.

A perfect storybook for Jewish families with adopted children ages 4 to 8. Traditional Jewish families will especially like its focus on normative Jewish family practices and the centrality of Jewish observance.


For more on the Jewish Community’s “global big tent”, you’ll want to visit Tapestry: Weaving the Multicultural Threads of Jewish Identity. We’re a whole lot more than bagels and blintzes, baby!