peteg's blog - noise - books - 2011 10 25 DuongThuHuong BeyondIllusions

Dương Thu Hương: Beyond Illusions

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I extracted this from the ANU Menzies Library a few months ago. I hadn't realised that so many of her novels had been translated — Nina McPherson sure is industrious! Her efforts here with co-translator Phan Huy Duong are top-notch.

This is very much a falling-out-of-love socialist realism effort, a first novel that recreates the author's experiences of the early to mid 1980s in Hà Nội, on her road to becoming an expat dissident. As always her prose is fine, but this one could have been cut in half; there is a lot of repetition that is probably supposed to deepen things. I got impatient because this verbiage displaces so many details, such as just which of Nguyen's flexible principles Linh ultimately objected to. Her self-inflicted loneliness is sometimes difficult to indulge; and privation is generally the cost of principle, but we knew that already.

Her biggest failure is to not make us see Tran Phuong as Linh does; to the reader he is always a compromised greaseball, albeit perhaps a gifted compromised auteur greaseball, and so it is hard to understand why she doesn't see that. This is a bit weird as she does a great job with the blokes in her later novels; indeed, Nguyen does OK here, and she handles his discovery of spine quite well. The mysterious artist-hobo is perhaps a sugar-daddy wannabe; that one is left dangling. As always, Hà Nội is the center of the universe (as Paris presumably is for her now).

I see from elsewhere on the net that this is perhaps a Vietnamese Madame Bovary.

Two more to go from her, I think: Memories of a Pure Spring and No man's land, apparently both held by ANU.