peteg's blog - noise - books - 2011 06 18 Banerian VietnameseShortStories

James Banerian: Vietnamese Short Stories

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I extracted this venerable collection from the ANU library after reading the author/editor/translator's review of Dumb Luck; he also reviewed the epic The Moon of Hoa Binh.

There's a good overview at Amazon. I felt the collection was on the weak side, with the overt and mostly irrelevant political attitudes the author expresses in the introduction not helping it a great deal. (To give him credit these do draw attention to his other books, on the lives of the Vietnamese boat people of the 1970s and 1980s, a period far more recent than most stories here.) It is ironic that đổi mới cranked up within a year of this book's publication (1985/1986 depending on who you believe), sparking something of a renaissance in Vietnamese literature, including criticism of the regime (e.g. Dương Thu Hương). These days the pervasiveness of the internet has cracked the cultural scene wide open, and everyone can bemoan the lack of intellectualism everywhere.

None of these stories provided much of an insight into traditional Vietnamese culture; mostly they paint Rousseauan man-in-his-natural-state pictures of upstanding poverty, something easy to romance and much harder to envy. In that way it is a bit like Henry Lawson without the authenticity of his first-hand (living it) experience.

The pick for me was Monk Tue by Khái Hưng, which has been posted here.