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Category Archive for 'Vietnam'

Like so many other young men in the 1960s, Jonathan Ashe, a young man from a farm in rural Norfolk, England, has escaped his small village to travel the world and, on some level, to find out who he really is. He and his older brother, who has been left in charge of the family farm following the death of his father, have little in common, and some event from the past has alienated them. Though he has feelings for his mother, he cannot bring himself to write to her on a regular basis. Now in Viet Nam, half a world away from England, Jonathan decides to challenge himself as a photographer during the Vietnam War, anxious to expand his views of the world in an effort to understand more about life and death and survival. Jonathan’s own father died of an accidental gunshot wound when Jonathan was a young child, and the suddenness of the death and the memories he has of the aftermath have haunted Jonathan ever since. Now he as he thinks back on his childhood, he wonders how much of what we remember about a person or event is actually real and how much is what we wish for – or what we choose to remember? Can we ever learn to see traumatic experiences in new ways without lying to ourselves and others about the realities? Harding keeps her style simple and quiet, and except for one surprising coincidence, the novel resonates with honesty and truth, as Jonathan begins to find out what he needs to do to be happy, ending the novel on an upbeat note.

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Timeless in its themes and completely of the moment in its narrative voice, Kim Thuy’s Ru brings to life the innermost thoughts of one of Vietnam’s “boat people.” The author, whose family emigrated from Vietnam to Canada when she was ten, has created a vibrant novel that feels much more like a memoir than fiction, with a main character whose life so closely parallels that of the author that her publisher’s biography for her is virtually identical in its details to the factual material in the novel. Few, if any, readers will doubt that the author actually lived these events – her voice is so clear and so honest that there is no sense of artifice at all. A series of vignettes, presented in the “random” order in which the main character, Nguyen An Tinh, appears to have remembered them, allows the author to move around through time and memory, while also allowing the reader to participate, for short moments, in events that would otherwise feel alien in time and place. The action, often dramatic, just as often reflects the quiet, loving experiences of a family’s life; descriptions of hardship and deplorable, even repulsive, conditions are balanced by the author’s ability to see beauty in small, even delicate, moments.

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Vietamese-born Linda Le, one of France’s most popular authors, moved to Paris in 1997 when she was fourteen, accompanying her mother, grandmother, and three sisters soon after the fall of Saigon. In this energetic, sometimes raucous, and always surprising novel, Le describes the lives of three other young Vietnamese women who are also living in France—now totally assimilated after twenty years of living there. Two sisters, known as Elder Cousin, or Potbelly, who is pregnant, and her younger sister, Long Legs, a “cutie” who is living with someone she hopes is a ticket to wealth, have decided to invite their estranged father, King Lear, to come from Saigon to Paris for a three-week visit. Potbelly will pay for the trip, since she is married to a wealthy French “Hardware Man” in the “nutsandbolts business” who will be away during the visit; Long Legs has no money, spending her small salary on clothes, makeup, and trinkets. The third member of the Three Fates, Southpaw, referred to at one point at Albatrocious, is their cousin, a young woman who has lost a hand. The sisters have few expectations regarding their reunion with King Lear, and Long Legs does not even remember the language, but they do plan to impress him with their financial and social success in France and show him how “French” they are.

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In describing the excavation of a junk which sank off the north coast of Viet Nam in the mid-fifteenth century, Frank Pope focuses on the people who engage in excavation work–the maritime archaeologist vs. the treasure hunter, the financiers who supply the funds that make underwater excavation possible, the looters (often fishermen) who damage sites, the academics who engage in fierce competition for recognition within the field, and the divers, who have to live underwater in small, pressurized containers for over a month at a time. He also includes the history of maritime archaeology, detailed descriptions of the equipment which has evolved to make deep dives possible, the status of current technology in the field, and the complex systems which support “saturation divers,” who may be working at eight atmospheres of pressure. Almost a million rare Vietnamese porcelain and ceramic artifacts from the fifteenth century are discovered.

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