beggar, blind storyteller publishes volume of poetry
Thanh dictates to his youngest daughter, Nguyen Thi Kieu Loan, also an
accomplished author. — VNS File Photo
NGHE AN — Blind since
the age of 14, Nguyen Trung Thanh has never lost his love for reading. The
48-year-old, nicknamed Thanh Sach (Thanh Bookworm) by his friends when he was
kid, still gets excited when he hears that a new book is available at his
Thanh lost his sight in
1971 during the final years of the American war, after a bomb exploded near a
shelter where he and his parents were hiding.
After the incident, his
mother, a bamboo basketmaker, worked hard to earn more money to send him to Ha
Noi for treatment, but to no avail. "I had to give up my studies when I was
in the eighth grade," Thanh said.
But his ardor for books
remained undiminished. At his mother’s shop, he would ask customers to read
excerpts from books recently purchased by bookshops in Nghe An Province.
A young woman who was a
frequent visitor to Thanh’s house began reading out loud for him.
"We married after she
told me that she loved me and that she was ready to share any hardships with
me," Thanh said.
Today, he still knows by
heart many well-known works by Vietnamese authors, thanks to those days in his
"My wife and I are
still very poor, living on the sales of crabs and snails we catch in our village’s
river, but I still have a deep love for books," he said.
"Every day, my wife
and my children spend three to five hours reading books to me, including
translated versions of Andersen’s fairy tales, the I Ching and the latest
stories written by young Vietnamese writers."
In his free time, he
writes poetry. His first poem was published in 1995, followed by other poems and
"It takes me a long
time to write a sentence in which I make raised dots representing Braille
letters on hard, thick paper. I often feel that blood is pouring from the tips
of my fingers," he said.
Two collections of his
poems, called Khuc Ru Long (Lullaby to Heart), have recently been published with
the help of his friends.
He is currently working on
a 400-page draft called Hidden Way, which tells of the difficult days he and his
daughter had when they traveled from province to province begging for money as
they told stories.
Eleven years ago, Thanh
earned his keep by reciting poems and telling stories to passers-by. His
youngest daughter, Nguyen Thi Kieu Loan, accompanied him, leaving their small
village in the central province of Nghe An’s Nghi Loc District to work in the
"Some invalids sing
to receive money. I don’t sing well so I told stories," Thanh said,
adding that his daugther, who also loves reading, dropped out of the fourth
grade to travel.
"Most of the stories
I told were about the heart-rending plight of the poor when the country was
under the domination of the French, and others were comic, poking fun at the
lifestyle of Viet Nam’s upper classes in the late 1930s."
"We were called the
father-and-child talking book," he said. "They especially liked my
recitals of romance verses written by Viet Nam’s great poets like Xuan Dieu,
Nguyen Binh and Han Mac Tu."
After a year of travelling
in the northern and central regions, Thanh decided to stop wandering because his
daughter wanted to resume school.
"She tried to hide
this from me, but I knew that she wept each time we past a school. And I couldn’t
continue to use other people’s literary works, either," he said.
Today, Loan writes poems
and short stories. Her Chuyen Tu Ngay Ay (Story of That Day) won first prize in
a literature competition in 1998 sponsored by Thieu Nien Tien Phong (Youth
Pioneers) magazine, and was published last month along with her most recent work
Dong Song Cua Be (A River of Be). — VNS