Vietnamese-French Nuage Rose (real name Bui Thi Hong Van) launched her novel Trois Nuage au Pays des Nenuphars (Three Clouds in the Country of Lotus) last Friday during the European Literature Days hosted in Ha Noi. The author picked up the French Writers Association award for "Most Favourite" title and has introduced her book at book fairs in France, Belgium and Switzerland.
She chats with Culture Vulture on her first book.
What is the book about?
It traces the nostalgia of a small girl, who experienced her childhood during the American war of destruction against North Viet Nam (1964-75). At first, I intended to write an autobiography. But soon, I realised that with the main heroine "I" in the story, it wouldn't work. Then I decided to write about "her", a small girl, who permits me to write more objectively and even explore more features of the war through the girl's innocent eyes.
The story consists of 250 pages; with some illustrations including rare photos of our family dating back to that time and some pencil sketches by my father. He helped me to draw sketches of the scenes and situations we experienced during my childhood in a rural area in the north, when we evacuated from Ha Noi to avoid American bombs in rural areas of Hai Duong Province.
I have no intention to write on the war and history as there are too many experts in the field. I just tell a story of my childhood in the context of historic moments. The story also reflects my memories of life in the countryside with kind-hearted farmers, wonderful scenes and odours.
What inspired you to write the novel?
Well, I actually have written a lot since I was young. Many people write as a career, some write as they are talented and many others write to earn a living. For me, I have written because of a very simple reason: I don't know how to express myself orally.
In some moments of my life, I realised that I haven't told my parents: I love you!
And I started to write the story as a love letter to my parents, then to the kind-hearted farmers who cared for me and my family during the fiercest period of war and poverty. My children have grown-up in France and are now living in Viet Nam. I also want to write for them to understand the historic periods of their motherland, about what their grandparents and family have experienced.
I wrote in French as I can express myself better in French than in Vietnamese. I have lived in France for a long time and there are many notions in Vietnamese that I don't know. When I started to write, French came naturally.
How has the book been received in Europe?
It's a real surprise. I'm not a professional writer nor a famous person. When I finished the book, I also had no intention to publish it. But many of my acquaintances read it and encouraged me to publish. Then I received some proposals from some publishers in Paris.
Then, I received the award from the French Writers Association's Publishing House.
And I have been warmly welcomed at book fairs in Paris, Brussels, Geneva, Bretagne, Normandy and Mans.
I don't dare to talk too much on my book's success. Let the audience talk.
What are your most memorable moments with audiences there?
In each country, I had special, memorable and moving moments.
In Geneva, an American woman held my hands and said that my novel reminded her of her the 1960s, when she used to go marching in the streets to protest the war in Viet Nam.
In Brussels, Belgium, a physician told me that when reading my book, he was consumed by feelings of guilt over Viet Nam.
I was very moved by young audiences. I have signed my books to give to students aged 14-22 years old. And one of my youngest readers was a 12-year-old girl. I was very happy to talk to them.
And what I'm most happy about today is introducing my book in my very own motherland; in the city I was born. I want to give this novel as a present to my parents.
As a female writer, do you think women have advantages when it comes to writing?
No, I don't think women have more advantages or disadvantages than men when writing. I have written with the feelings of a human being, not a woman. Women and men are equal in the field. — VNS