peteg's blog - noise - books - 2011 10 18 HoAnhThai BehindTheRedMist

Hồ Aanh Thái: Behind the Red Mist

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Another Curbstone Press effort, from 1998, translator-in-chief Nguyễn Quí Đức in this instance, assisted by Regina Abrami, Bac Hoai Tran, Phan Thanh Hao and Dana Sachs. Wayne Karlin edited it, whatever that entails. From the ANU Menzies Library.

This is a collection of his short stories, generally set in the late 1980s in Vietnam, with a few in India. The Goat Meat Special gets another run, meh. I did like:

  • A Fragment of a Man (something romantic happens in the hills while a bloke is serving a somewhat spurious punishment during his army service)
  • The Indian (a man carries his mother's bones with him around the world)
  • The Chase (villagers enforcing their dress code in 1980s Việt Nam)
  • The Barter (an Indian ex-Virgin Goddess develops a taste for Western things)
  • The Man who Believed in Fairy Tales (Việt Kiều literalism — a Vietnamese national is transformed into a blue-eyed white-skinned American)
  • Leaving the Valley (trafficking in young women in India)

The novella Behind the Red Mist is like Charles Yu's How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, without the grammatical whimsy: a 17 year old in the year 1987 is electrocuted, and spends a magical few months (wall-clock time) in 1967 learning about his parents as young people. OK, well, it is Vietnamese, so the pronouns need to shift: his father insists on becoming his older brother, his grandmother an aunt. He seems to fall in love with a young woman whose family has passed. As a vehicle for comparing the war-time and post-war generations this is a decent gimmick which he could have spun out to novel-length.

It's the best thing I've read from him yet.