Thu Huong, translated by Phan Huy Duong and Nina McPherson.
William H Morrow and Company, 270 pages
Houston Book Club - http://www.HoustonBookClub.com.
Not a book club selection.
Vietnam: Their Story Banned in Hanoi
I've read some Vietnamese literature,
including Kim Van Kieu, Paradise of the Blind
by Duong Thu Huong, and When Heaven and Earth Changed Places
by Ley Li Heyslip.
Of these, Paradise of the Blind
is one of the best books I've read, of whatever topic.
Its appeal is universal because of the beautiful writing style
of the author, Duong Thu Huong and the skillful development
of her characters. One important piece of evidence in this
regard is that you can find it at the BookStop, not in the
Asian or Vietnamese sections, but in General Literature and
Duong Thu Huong was born in 1947 in
Vietnam. At the age of twenty, she volunteered to lead a Communist
Youth Brigade sent to the front during the Vietnam War. During
China's 1979 attack on Vietnam, Duong Thu Huong also became
the first woman combatant present on the front lines to chronicle
the conflict. A vocal advocate of human rights and democratic
political reform, Duong Thu Huong was expelled from the Vietnamese
Communist party in 1989. She was imprisoned without trial
for seven months in 1991 for her political beliefs. This is
her fourth novel and her fourth to be effectively banned by
the Vietnamese government. She lives in Hanoi with her two
Although Paradise of the Blind
portrays three Vietnamese women struggling to survive in a
society where subservience to men is expected and Communist
corruption crushes every dream in the 1980's, it is not just
a "woman's" book. I think men like this book also.
For the American reader, he can acquaint himself with the
ordinary daily lives of Vietnamese, get some background in
the mythology, beliefs and customs, and become aware of the
central role of food.
This book is a rich and beckoning
welcome to Vietnamese culture. You will enjoy the appendix
called a "Glossary of Vietnamese Food and Cultural Terms."
For the Vietnamese-American reader, you will find perhaps
that many memories of the smells and textures of life in Vietnam
come rushing back to your mind in a tidal wave.
Through the eyes of Hang, a young
woman in her twenties who has grown up amidst the slums and
intermittent beauty of Hanoi, we come to know the tragedy
of her family as land reform rips apart their village. When
her uncle Chinh's political loyalties replace family devotion,
Hang is torn between her mother's appalling self-sacrifice
and the bitterness of her aunt Tam who can avenge but not
forgive. Only by freeing herself from the past will Hang be
able to find dignity-and a future.
One thing most Americans probably
don't know is that many Vietnamese went to work in the Soviet
Union. Some of the saddest days of Hang are spent in Russia,
and her uncle is humiliated many times by his comrades.
As Robert Stone noted "Considering
that Vietnam so absorbed the energies of an entire generation
of Americans, it is remarkable how little even those of us
who have been there finally know about the country and the
life of its people. In Paradise of the Blind, Duong
Thu Huong lays open the Vietnamese experience for the world
as only a first-rate writer can. The novel's descriptive style
is at once passionate, precise and lyrical."
It is indeed rare that a translation
comes across so floridly. I wish I knew Vietnamese so I could
read it in its original form, but the beauty is not lost in
are those of the reviewer, and do not necessarily reflect
all of the book club members' assessments.
- August, 2005 for www.HoustonBookClub.com