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Vietnam’s writing released to the world VNTimes


An anthology of translated stories by 19 contemporary Vietnamese writersunder 40, set to be released this month, will present a new image ofVietnam to native English speakers.

The literarytranslation project was carried out by Charles Waugh, writer,translator and associate professor of English at Utah StateUniversity in the US, under a National Endowment for the Artsfellowship.

The prize-winning stories highlight theimpact of globalization on Vietnamese culture, seen from theperspective of writers who came of age just as Vietnam turned to amarket economy in 1986.

They include Gio Le (TheGentle Breeze) by Nguyen Ngoc Tu, which describes the hard lives of poorpeople coming to big cities to find work, Gieng (The Well) by Di Li,about golf culture, and Vet Thuong Thanh Thi (Wounds of the City) by DoTien Thuy, about the challenges of urbanisation.

Other stories portray the lives of people in remote regions of Vietnam. They include Loc Troi (Fortune from God) by Nguyen The Hung, Cua SoKhong Co Chan Song (Windows without Glass) by Nie Thanh Mai and Con MuaHoa Man Trang (Rain of White Plum Flowers) by Pham Duy Nghia.

"Our focus on writers coming of age after “doi moi” (the Vietnamesepolicy of renewal) is meant to show American readers what Vietnam islike today, when 65 percent of the population is under 30 years old andglobal capitalism has a far greater presence in everyday life than a warthat was just one in a series of wars fought in Vietnam during the 20thcentury," he said in an interview published on the official blog of theNational Endowment of the Arts.

While Vietnamis teeming with young writers and literary publications, Waugh realisedthat most of their stories weren't being read outside the country due tothe lack of translation. Of the two most recent collections oftranslated Vietnamese fiction published in the US , only one featuresa writer born after 1970.

The idea for the projectemerged as he witnessed changes to the country during his visits toHanoi . Each time he arrived, he needed to buy an updated map, asapartment buildings replaced rice paddies and the city boundariesstretched further apart.

"And as urban centres likeHanoi continue to expand, new themes have emerged in Vietnameseliterature. Vietnamese authors now write about migration and thechallenges of city life, and of lost traditions and spiritualconnections with the land," Waugh said. "These new writers did not growup during wartime. Their perspective is not one of disillusionment andrebuilding; it is golf courses and mobile phones, studio apartments andPottery Barn.

"That would mean that they may havebeen born during the war, but most likely were not as impacted by it asby the new way of life that followed that 1986 change. Our oldest writerwas born in 1969, our youngest in 1980."

ForWestern audiences, whose knowledge of Vietnam is often limited toAmerican-produced books and movies about the American War there, Waugh'swork may be enlightening.

To realise the project,Waugh cooperated with associate professor Ngo Van Gia, head of theLiterature and Press Department of Hanoi's Culture University. Giahelped him select the authors and facilitated contact between him andVietnamese writers.

Since 1996, Waugh has spentseveral years living in Vietnam teaching as a Fulbright Fellow andconducting research. He had completed a master's degree in history wherehe focused on Americans in Vietnam in the 1950s. It was also thenthat he started to learn Vietnamese and read Vietnamese poetry and folktales for the first time.

He previously translatedand published the 2010 anthology Family of Fallen Leaves, whose storiesand essays illuminate the horrors of Agent Orange from a Vietnameseperspective, in collaboration with Nguyen Lien, former professor in theBritish-American literature department of Hanoi NationalUniversity's College of Social Science and Humanities.-VNA

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