The guernsey literary and potato peel pie society

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Lê Duy Nam & Hà Thủy Nguyên at a West Lake coffeesiêu thị in Ha Noi. Photo lớn by Karín Aguilar-San Juan

I was refreshed and inspired when I made two new friends on a recent visit khổng lồ Ha Noi. Thảo wrote & published a fantasy historical novel, ĐIỆU NHẠC TRẦN GIAN (Dragons of the Mysterious Southern Land) when she was still a teenager in 2004. She’s now an accomplished nationally recognized writer using the pen name Hà Tbỏ Nguyên. Together with her husb& Lê Duy Nam and several friends và colleagues, Hà Thủy Ngulặng founded Book Hunter, a loose association of concerned writers và intellectuals who use Facebook and other social truyền thông to push for cultural change và freedom in Vietnam giới.

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According khổng lồ Hà Tdiệt Ngulặng, she never intended lớn become an activist. She’s a writer who believes that fiction should be thoroughly researched and based on factual retìm kiếm. In those inevitable moments when the facts don’t add up, the writer has a chance to lớn explore the situation and propose new thoughts và perspectives for the reader lớn consider. The freedom she & her colleagues envision would allow writers more opportunities khổng lồ research the facts of history và simultaneously would develop an observant and appreciative audience. This type of freedom is not easily instituted; aước ao other things, it requires a rigorous public school system that teaches young children và adults to be careful & dedicated readers.

Hà Tdiệt Nguyên turned khổng lồ activism after the government censored her work. As a TV screen writer, she wrote a show called “Vòng Nguyệt Quế,” which aired on the nation’s prime channel VTV1 at peak hour in 2008. After the show aired, her second novel, Cầm Tlỗi tiệm, another work of historical fiction, was banned & withdrawn by the government. It was re-issued in 2018 by Book Hunter. Hà Tbỏ Nguim hypothesizes that her humanistic portrayals of kings và other important historical figures are considered too “realistic,” in contrast to their treatment as flawless deities. According lớn Hà Thủy Nguyên and Lê Duy Nam, every regime in Vietnamese history has burned the traces of the prior regime, so it is nearly impossible lớn verify what actually happened in the past. Here & there, I was told, the only documents that remain from Vietnam’s ancient history have sầu been stashed away by traveling monks. That gap creates an opening for government-sponsored narratives of history that are invested in serving a political purpose.

Interview with Hà Thủy Nguyên ổn with The 88 Project.

In the global era of Trump & giả news, it’s easy lớn see why emphasizing realism in almost any authoritarian or gerontocratic society could be a threat. In the United States, it’s easy to lớn pinpoint mainstream narratives of history that are less about revealing the truth than about serving a political purpose. Just think about assimilation & the American Dream (purpose: to lớn distract attention from histories of displacement, l& theft, genocide, và the enslavement of Africans). Or the mã sản phẩm minority myth (purpose: to lớn pit Asian Americans against brown và blaông chồng people and divide the laboring classes). Even the heart-wrenching stories of Southeast Asian war refugees are often collapsed inkhổng lồ a didactic tall tale about trắng saviorism và Asian gratitude, removing from consideration the histories of U.S. racism, militarism, or colonialism abroad.

Probably the most fascinating aspect of meeting with Lê Duy Nam & Hà Thủy Nguyên ổn is their obvious love sầu of history và literature. We did not spend one second discussing engineering, math, accounting, sale, the natural sciences, or international diplomacy—the usual topics that absorb many of my relatives & friends in Asia. On top of that, Lê Duy Nam & Hà Thủy Nguyên ổn have sầu taken a clear stance on the public-school system: they homeschool their teenage daughter. And even though Nam is technically a college dropout–after he enrolled in Hanoi University of Science và Technology he realized he could learn better on his own–Nam made clear to lớn me that he isn’t “against” school as a social institution. He feels that each individual should make their own decision about how to learn. I was surprised to lớn meet a person in Vietnam giới with views I associate with libertarianism.

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What surprises me the most are the choice of English language books that Book Hunter has translated fully into Vietnamese, including most recently Edward Glaeser’s Triumph of the City và selected works by Osoto Wilde (his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray và his essay on the “The Soul of Man Under Socialism”). Obviously, an author’s message is the first consideration. Next, Nam explained khổng lồ me, is that Book Hunter manages khổng lồ obtain permission to lớn translate, kiến thiết & print books all by themselves. Book Hunter’s translations are beautifully designed, and the handsome paperbacks are now available to a relatively small audience, và the print run for each book is only 300-500 copies. Advertising và sales take place via the mạng internet, which as far as I could see was not censored in Vietphái nam. The books are not cheap. Relatively higher prices are part of Book Hunter’s strategy khổng lồ reward writers for their work, và to lớn change the public mindphối about the value & quality of the books they read.

Read more on Book Hunter: Vietnam’s Book Market—where the discounted books come from

A 2011 New York Times book review by Diana Silver appreciates Glaeser’s “nimble mind” và his refreshing enthusiasm for urban growth. According khổng lồ Silver, Glaeser’s book argues that cities enable the best aspects of modern human society to emerge—the denser the population, the more face-to-face interaction, and the more imaginative sầu collaboration is possible. Meanwhile, the author rails against suburban sprawl and suburban living. As an urban sociologist myself—and someone who enjoys the buzz of crowded spaces like Ha Noi’s Old Quarter—I can see why Lê Duy Nam & Hà Tdiệt Nguim would lượt thích this book.

As for the appeal of Osoto Wilde in contemporary Vietnam giới, I couldn’t stop myself from noticing a huge coincidence: my father, a retired university professor born và raised in the Philippines, wrote his dissertation on Osoto Wilde. His first book, The Art of Oscar Wilde, was published in 1965. Like Nam, my father values intellectual freedom and has devoted his life to lớn a humanistic study of literature và society. When I emailed my father about Book Hunter, he wrote back: “Wilde in Vietnam? What a mind-blowing headline!”

It turns out that Wilde was an upper-class Irishman who appreciated French literature và rebelled against British imperialism. Victorian values judged hyên a criminal & turned his homosexuality inkhổng lồ an alibi for their repressive sầu actions. According to lớn my father, “herever people are critical of established society, Wilde will provide them irony, humor, wit, và daring lớn challenge the Establishment and religious orthodoxy.” This perspective sầu on Wilde helps me put Book Hunter và their cultural activism into lớn context.

I sympathize with Book Hunter and with the cause of cultural and artistic freedom that Hà Thủy Nguyên & Lê Duy Nam uphold. It seems that enhanced liberties in Vietphái mạnh should ultimately mesh well with current government policies for economic integration. After all, if a nation is open to business with other societies, it follows that everyone will also be exposed khổng lồ different ways of thinking about the humanities, art, and literature. Of course, that is all easier said than done, và as a friendly foreigner associated with the U.S. antiwar movement, I have not been invited to lớn give my opinions about intellectual or cultural freedoms in Vietphái mạnh. Honestly, before I met Hà Tbỏ Nguim & Lê Duy Nam, I did not even know what questions lớn ask. That tells you how much I learned from them.

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Contributor Bio

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Karín Aguilar-San Juan is a Contributing Book review Editor for diaCRITICS.org. Together with Frank Joyce, Karín edited The People Make the Peace: Lessons from the Vietphái nam Antiwar Movement (Just World Books 2015).


Chuyên mục: literature