Literary works by three contemporary Vietnamese and Viet kieu authors recently made their entrance into the Francophone world in a venture undertaken by some French publishers.
T. A Disparu (T. has disappeared), Une Opportunité pour Dieu (An opportunity for God) and Khmer Boléro, works originally written in French and authored by Thuan, Nguyen Viet Ha and Do Khiem, respectively, were enthusiastically embraced at the high-profile Paris Book Fair held late last month.
These three works belong to the French Riveneuve Publisher’s recently formed Vietnamese literature collection.
A new batch of Vietnamese writers
“These three authors represent the new generation of Vietnamese literature, regarding their writing styles and the issues their novels address,” Jean François, chair of Centre National du Livre (CNL- National Center of Books), commented.
Thuan, a graduate from France’s prestigious Sorbonne University, whose full name is Doan Anh Thuan, is known for her witty, liberal and profound writing style.
Her ‘T. Has Disappeared’ novel features two parallel storylines, which may disorient the reader.
“What I need is change and risk-taking to explore, not taking the norm,” Thuan explained.
Considered an extraordinary writer of ordinary things, Ha, the author of ‘An Opportunity for God’, anatomizes society and people with a rare astuteness and refined quality and depicts them with his hilarious yet tender prose.
At another stall at the Paris Book Fair, there was quite a stir about Do Khiem’s latest novel, ‘Khmer Bolero.’
In the book, Khiem writes about sex and love with simple, coarse, yet inoffensive words.
With his diplomatic, liberal style, Khiem fascinates the reader with his humor and the enticing stories witnessed and narrated by a seasoned traveler.
In certain facets, Thuan, Ha and Khiem, aged from 40 to 60, represent modern Vietnamese history, as Khiem remarked.
Thuan, 40, received training in Moscow before attending university and settling in Paris 20 years ago. Ha lives in Hanoi and received a pure Vietnamese education. Meanwhile, Khiem grew up in France and immersed himself in time-honored European cultural essences and practicality.
“The novelty and originality first lie in their choice of genres. The new generation of Vietnamese writers now prefer novels to short stories. Their choices of topics and writing styles are also a far cry from those adopted by their predecessors,” commented Jean Pierre Han, a literature critic, writer, director and editor-in-chief of Friction and Lettres Françaises (French Literature) magazines.
He divided Vietnamese literature into two major sections. One is the assemblage of writers who grew up in war time, and the other is those who were born and grew up after the war ended.
“The succeeding generation accentuates their personal standings in society, and frankly addresses sexual issues. They also depict average people in their daily lives,” Jean Pierre Han noted.
“Their works explore the artistic values which their predecessors tend to overlook. They depict the world as it is, not as it should be. The ‘ego’ which used to be condemned is now adopted by them,” remarked Professor Doan Cam Thi in his recent research on modern Vietnamese authors.
As new Vietnamese writers such as Thuan, Ha and Khiem have yet to enjoy high readership in France, Belgium and Switzerland, this presents a financial risk to publishers who buy their copyright, translate and print their works.
In France, only six publishers, namely large publishing corporations Seuil, Picquier and Acte Sud, and independent publishers Sabine Wespieser, Vivianne Hamy and Riveneuve, have chosen to release works by Vietnamese or Vietnamese-origin classic and modern writers.
Riveneuve’s establishment of a Vietnamese literature collection is also a risky decision.
“This is our option, and also our role in promoting new talents. We believe our discerning readers will appreciate these untold stories,” said its publishing director, Alain Jauson.
Costs for releasing a foreign work in France amount to around 10,000-15,000 euros for 2,000-3,000 copies.
“Considering the increasingly important role Asia is taking in today’s world, Asian literature will gain a strong foothold in Western countries. Like Japanese, Chinese and Indian literature, those from the rest of Asia, including Vietnam, will enjoy greater popularity,” Jauson added.
Riveneuve is set to release more new Vietnamese pieces, including ‘Paris August 11’ by Thuan, next year.
Viet kieu writer Mathilde Tuyet Tran, 61, released her book titled “From Lung Cu to Dat Mui”, which she had been working on for over 10 years, in France earlier this year.
The book records the author’s impressions and emotions jotted down during her journey across Vietnam. The versatile woman was trained and succeeded in the finance sector in Germany before settling in France and rekindling her artistic passion in 2000.
A prolific writer, Tuyet Tran released a novel titled Hoa gai (Thorny flowers) as well as Dau xua - Tan Man Lich Su Nha Nguyen (The Age-Old Mark - A Brief Look at the Nguyen Dynasty), an extensively researched, critically acclaimed historical writing which features many unpublished historical facts, and Viet Bac - Mot Mua Xuan (Viet Bac - That Spring), a journal-like piece inspired by her visit back to Vietnam, which created quite a stir among overseas Vietnamese communities, in France in 2010 and 2011.
She also wrote and translated into French two books on Vietnamese cuisine along with scores of research, translations, poems and oil paintings.