A Chorus of Voices from Vietnam
Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai and Yukiko Duke
Do you understand why I’ve decided to tell you about our family? If our stories survive, we will not die, even when our bodies are no longer here on this earth.
The Vietnam war was a watershed event in the Cold War as well as in the West’s understanding of itself. But what does the story look like from a Vietnamese perspective?
In Vietnam, the war is still a traumatic experience. This is what writer Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai explores in her novel The Mountains Sing, in which we alternately follow the girl Huong and her grandmother Diệu Lan.
While the rest of the family has been scattered across the country, Huong and Diệu Lan tries to make it through the days with the help of stories. Huong disappears into books like Pinocchio and Treasure Island, or listens to her grandmother sharing her life story, where Nguyễn takes us through the history of Vietnam in the last hundred years, from a colony under Japan and the brutal reforms of the communist regime in the 1950s and through the horrific years of the Vietnam war. Is reconciliation at all possible after decades of abuse and with families torn apart?
Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai has published a number of poetry collections in Vietnamese, and in The Mountains Sing, her first novel in English, this background from poetry is clearly visible. She balances the dark story with a vivid and lyrical language, and through the novel’s chorus of voices, she challenges the black and white picture we know from history books and Hollywood movies. The novel has been met with critical acclaim, and won her the International Book Award and the PEN Oakland/ Josephine Miles Literary Award.
When Nguyễn visits the House of Literature, she will be joined by translator and artistic advisor for the Norwegian Festival of Literature, Yukiko Duke, for a conversation about memories, reconciliation and Vietnam’s bloody history.
The event will be in English.