peteg's blog - noise - books - 2008 09 01 Lockhart TheLightOfTheCapital

The Light of the Capital, translated by Greg and Monique Lockhart.

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A collection of three stories set in Hà Nội towards the end of French colonial rule, around the 1930s. The translations are quite good, apart from the irritating convention of stripping all the decorations from the Vietnamese characters. Are Western presses incapable of printing them? (Well, I guess it is probable that the word processors of the early 1990s couldn't cope.)

The stories:

  • Tam Lang's I Pulled a Rickshaw is an enlightening account of a newspaper reporter slumming it with the rickshaw coolies, ala George Orwell's Down and out in Paris and London.

  • Vũ Trọng Phụng's Household Servants is the pick of the collection, canvassing the topic of domestic help from all angles. Apparently there is a recent translation of one of his novels (Dumb Luck) into English. Once again, the author is a newspaper reporter slumming it.

  • Nguyen Hong's Days of Childhood is a rambling account of the author's childhood (surprise). I struggled to get into this one.

There is an extensive introduction, written in what I think is the style of literary criticism, which provides a lot of useful background to the times in which these stories are set.

You can get a feeling for his prose and politics in his (long) review of a collection of Wilfred Burchett's writings at The Australian, and for his and his wife's translations at the Việt Nam Literature Project.