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Meet the miniature book man from Ha Noi

Update: August, 16/2014 - 12:00

A man in Ha Noi loves collecting very small books.

He started this hobby when he was studying in the Soviet Union.

Books were expensive there.

To save money to build up his collection, he sometimes missed out on eating.

Some of his books are very rare.

Collector's editions:Nguyen Thanh Dam has a passion for collecting miniature books.
Collector's editions:Nguyen Thanh Dam has a passion for collecting miniature books. -  VNA/VNS Photos

by Tran Hoa

Painter Nguyen Thanh Dam may not be the only person with this hobby in Viet Nam, but he is the only one with such a bulky bookcase of miniature books.

"The books are very small but the knowledge contained therein is very big. I've never measured the value of my books with money, but they must be as costly as my house," he said, while receiving some guests at his small, old house at a quiet alley in Ly Thuong Kiet Street, downtown Ha Noi.

His passion for collecting miniature books began in 1970, when he was in the Soviet Union to study layouts of books and newspapers.

"Ever since I was in high school, I had a dream of owning a bookcase for mini-books," he recalled.

Since Dam lived in the Soviet Union for nearly a decade, he travelled to many libraries to find these mini-books. But as a student, he hardly had money to buy such valuable books. He recalled that he had to even skip a few meals to buy them.

"It was true that the smaller the books, the more expensive they were. The size of the first one I bought was only 3.5 by 5cm and cost about 15 roubles," he said.

"The Russians were good friends, and as they knew about my passion for such books, they presented me a lot of them. These were the most priceless gifts that I had received," he said.

On the day Dam returned home, among his belongings were these tiny and strange books that Viet Nam had never seen at that time.

Historic book

Now Dam owns many old books of the countries in the former Soviet bloc, and even many from Egypt, Laos and Thailand.

But his most prized possession is Lich su nuoc ta (History of our country) that still has the fingerprints of revolutionary leader Nguyen Ai Quoc, who later became President Ho Chi Minh.

This book has very thin paper, and is sized 9 by 15 cm.

It has just 14 pages, but President Ho summarised the whole process of thousands of years of history, and of building and defending the country from ancient times to the anti-French colonialist era.

"For each dynasty, he only used a few verses, but these portrayed the whole heroic process. The unique thing is that when publishing this book, President Ho was both, the author and editor, layout artist and illustrator, typographer and printer in-charge. He also cleaned up all the errors," said Dam.

Looking at that book which is "full of essence", Dam explained that it was printed by lithographs directly by President Ho in February 1942.

Not only has Dam collected many exclusive and strange mini-books, but he is also a talented book cover designer.

In 1980, to prepare for Vietnamese pilot Pham Tuan's flight into space as part of the Soviet Union's Interkosmos programme, the Vietnamese Government had assigned the painter to design some mini-books including Tuyen ngon doc lap (Declaration of Independence).

"It was a difficult task because at that time printing conditions were poor. I was required to design books that would be thin, durable and beautiful. I went to Buoi paper making village [in Cau Giay District] to buy do paper [poonah] to print the book, so ink would not be visible on the other side of the paper. It took me four months to complete three books to send to the Soviet Union," he said.

After the Vietnamese Embassy in the Soviet Union received these books, they quickly sent them to pilot Pham Tuan. However, because of safety reasons only the book Declaration of Independence was allowed for Pham Tuan to take on his journey into space.

The pilot carefully noted on the book cover: "Taking off at 1.33am of July 24, 1980."

On July 31, 1980, when Tuan returned to Earth, many foreign correspondents interviewed him about the book.

People were surprised to learn that the book's scripts were still intact while other material had almost completely faded.

This was an opportunity to promote Vietnamese books and poonah paper material to the world. This was also the first and the only mini-book of Viet Nam to "fly" into the universe.

"In 1982, I attended a seminar on books in Germany and learnt that UNESCO had issued standards for mini-books: They must be less than 8cm in width. I have collected a lot of mini-books with weird designs such as ones shaped like lanterns, eggs and lighters. Based on the mini-books, we can learn of the technology and advancement of the printing industry in each country."

According to Dam, his bookcase now has up to 500 little tiny books. Some of these are as small as matchboxes but have several hundred pages.

These books have been meticulously designed and packed with more knowledge about mankind, politics, economy, culture, astronomy, and aspects of art.

Dam said proudly that he had some precious books such as one on Vladimir Lenin. There were only 100 copies published on the occasion of his 100th birth anniversary, to present to the leaders of countries or special guests.

Dam has one of these books, thanks to a student. He even had a gold-plated book done delicately and beautifully.

Historian Duong Trung Quoc also called him up recently and offered to present him with two mini-books that Quoc was presented during a trip overseas, Dam said.

"Once, a foreigner who visited my library offered to buy my books at any price. I refused to sell them because they are knowledge. If knowledge goes there's nothing left. Moreover, the mini-books are rare, and it is even more difficult to collect such antique books," he said. — VNS

GLOSSARY

His passion for collecting miniature books began in 1970, when he was in the Soviet Union to study layouts of books and newspapers.

If you have a passion for something, you have an interest in it that is so strong, you can hardly control the emotions it gives you.

The Soviet Union was once the world's largest country. It was the leader of the socialist countries of the world until it collapsed in 1991 and became divided into many different countries. The largest of them is Russia, which today is the largest country in the world.

"It was true that the smaller the books, the more expensive they were. The size of the first one I bought was only 3.5 by 5cm and cost about 15 roubles," he said.

The money used in the Soviet Union was called the rouble. Is still used in Russia today. One rouble is worth 581.03 dong.

"These were the most priceless gifts that I had received," he said.

No price can be put on something that is worth so much to its owner that it would never be for sale. It would therefore be priceless.

Now Dam owns many old books of the countries in the former Soviet bloc, and even many from Egypt, Laos and Thailand.

A bloc is a group of countries that come together as one for certain things.

It has just 14 pages, but President Ho summarised the whole process of thousands of years of history, and of building and defending the country from ancient times to the anti-French colonialist era.

To summarise means to tell a shortened version of a story without missing out the most important parts of that story.

An era is a period in history.

"For each dynasty, he only used a few verses, but these portrayed the whole heroic process."

To portray means to describe.

 The unique thing is that when publishing this book, President Ho was both, the author and editor, layout artist and illustrator, typographer and printer in-charge. He also cleaned up all the errors," said Dam.

A typographer is someone whose job  is to design the printed letters that go on a page when the printing is done the old-fashioned way.

Looking at that book which is "full of essence", Dam explained that it was printed by lithographs directly by President Ho in February 1942.

A lithograph is a page produced using a flat surface in a printing method called lithography.

Not only has Dam collected many exclusive and strange mini-books, but he is also a talented book cover designer.

If somebody is talented they have a natural gift of being able to something, like designing book covers.

I was required to design books that would be thin, durable and beautiful.

Durable means tough.

 I went to Buoi paper making village [in Cau Giay District] to buy do paper [poonah] to print the book, so ink would not be visible on the other side of the paper. It took me four months to complete three books to send to the Soviet Union," he said.

If something can be seen it is visible. If it cannot be seen, it is invisible.

People were surprised to learn that the book's scripts were still intact while other material had almost completely faded.

Scripts are pieces of writing.

If something is intact it has not been broken.

This was an opportunity to promote Vietnamese books and poonah paper material to the world. This was also the first and the only mini-book of Viet Nam to "fly" into the universe.

To promote Vietnamese books means to say good things about them.

These books have been meticulously designed and packed with more knowledge about mankind, politics, economy, culture, astronomy, and aspects of art.

Meticulously means very carefully.

Astronomy is the study of the stars and the Universe.

If knowledge goes there's nothing left. Moreover, the mini-books are rare, and it is even more difficult to collect such antique books," he said.

If mini-books are rare, there are not many of them.

WORKSHEET

Find words that mean the following in the Word Search:

1.    Things that cannot be seen.

2.    The world's largest country.

3.    The name of the money used in that country.

4.    A country in Africa from where Nguyen Thanh Dam has books in his collection.

5.    Somewhere very exciting where Pham Tuan travelled.

 

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© Duncan Guy/Learn the News/ Viet Nam News 2014



































 1. Invisible; 2. Russia.3. Rouble; 4. Egypt; 5. Space.

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