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From Sai Gon to HCM City, a writer's journey

Update: May, 24/2015 - 06:46
Happy helpers: Writer Doan Thach Bien (right) and Nguyen Dong Thuc pose for a photo with primary students in Quang Nam Province after delivering them books and study tools. — VNS File Photos

Contemporary author Doan Thach Bien started his journey to acclaim in Sai Gon before reunification. Since then he's written popular collections and encouraged young writers to pursue the art. Ha Nguyen reports.

Although he rose to prominence as a writer during the Sai Gon regime, the name of Doan Thach Bien, 67, is still very popular among most Vietnamese readers.

He is particularly liked by young people, such as students, who admire his fervid and soulful literature.

Veteran Nguyen Van Toan, 60, in Ha Noi's Hai Ba Trung District, said he liked reading Bien's works, such as Tinh Nho Sao Quen (Why Forget Little Love) and Nhung Ngay Tuoi Dep (Beautiful Days) very much.

"His work tends to be good. They are very good examples for people to follow. It encourages people to do good things for themselves and for society," said Toan.

Toan said he was very moved while reading Bien's first collection Vi Du Ta Yeu Nhau (For Example We Love Each Other), printed in 1974 under his pen name of Nguyen Thanh Trinh, which has been reprinted six times.

"The collection expresses his soul in all its flesh and blood, his childhood and pure memories," said Toan, adding that very few writers possessed such a writing style.

Writer Duyen Anh, who has also been famous and has been successfully writing stories for grown-up teenagers, said Trinh's literature was not only sophisticated and polished, but also full of good ideas."

After the South liberation in 1975, when Trinh was working as a textile worker in HCM City, he changed his pen name to Bien.

He even related a story to this name: "The name of a woman selling food in front of his factory was Doan Thi Bien. Her food sold so well that I took her name as my pen name, wishing my books would sell as well as her food."

Born in the northern province of Nam Dinh in 1948, Bien's real name is Pham Duc Thinh. His parents later moved and settled in the south. He attended secondary school in Da Nang and Literature University in Sai Gon.

During his university days, he learnt how to create a dramatic scenario from the prestigious teacher Vu Khac Khoan and became a good script writer.

Rendezvous: Writer Doan Thach Bien (left) meets with other writers at the middle point of the Hien Luong Bridge that linked the two parts of Viet Nam during the American war.

As a result, in 1973 he won the first prize of the south regime for his work Mot Buoi Tap Kich (A Drama Practising Session).

After the country's unification in 1975, while teaching at the Phan Ri Cua School in the coastal province of Binh Thuan, Bien had to report himself to the revolutionary administration because earlier he had been forced to join the Sai Gon army although he had never held a gun.

He was then asked to attend a re-education programme to learn new things about the liberated nation and was also sent to work at an economic resettlement in Tay Nguyen (Central Highlands) and then as a textile worker in HCM City.

"Despite those hard times, I never gave up composing literature and writing articles," said Bien.

In 1990, Bien acquired a permit to publish a journal named Ao Trang (White Shirt) that later became a playground for composers, particularly those who were studying in schools nationwide.

Many young composers have sent their articles and works to Bien for appraisal. He has even invested his own money many a times to seek a book publisher and to help young writers get published.

Journalist Bui Phuong Thao thanked Bien for his encouragement to her, which helped her write poems and short stories, which have now been published by several magazines and art and literary newspapers.

Although he is an editor for the Ao Trang, a journal for school students, Bien has also worked as a reporter for the Lao Dong newspaper, as this allowed him to quickly access new information by attending events and meeting people.

Now the magazine, sponsored by the Tuoi Tre newspaper, is a bi-monthly publication, with a circulation of nearly 20,000 copies, compared with 30,000 copies per month during the 1990s.

Bien revealed the Phuong Nam Book Company had recently signed a contract to buy the copyrights of 10 of his collections that will be published within 5 years until 2018.

Although he retired in 2008, Bien still works hard for the magazine because, "I still like to be a bridge that encourages young people's access to literary works."

In addition, he and fellow writer Nguyen Dong Thuc often raise money and books, which they deliver themselves to poor students in the southwest provinces of An Giang, Ben Tre, Ca Mau and others.

"Visiting these provinces, we recognise that students do not have books to read, so we try our utmost to collect old books from my relatives and friends in the city and present them to the students. They are very happy to receive each book from us," said Bien.

Writer Thuc described Bien as a 'three-zero' man, saying he had never done anything for fame, money and now lives with no woman, but beer and wine.

Despite this, Bien said this habit had helped him to live wholeheartedly with people and for people.

"I still have plans to try many new adventures in the country, although 40 years have passed since the unification," he said. — VNS

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