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Culture Vulture (24-02-2016)

Update: February, 24/2016 - 08:19

Novelist Ho Anh Thai

Novelist and Viet Nam Deputy Ambassador to Indonesia Ho Anh Thai recently published two new books entitled Lang Thang Trong Chu (Wandering in Words) and Tu Ke (Autobiography). Having started writing in 1978, the Ha Noi-born writer and diplomat has published about 40 books, including novels, short stories, essays and travel reportages.

His works have been translated into more than 10 languages. Fluent in several foreign languages, he has a PhD in Oriental Studies. He is also a lecturer and an Indologist. Culture Vulture chats with Thai about his new work and his passion.

Could you tell us about your new books?

Their titles somewhat reveal the content. Wandering in Words is a three-part essay. The first part touches upon the lifestyles and character of the Vietnamese people, their goodness and weaknesses. The second discusses literature and arts, with useful notes to writers including ways to name a literary work and to build plots and characters. The last part mentions the Vietnamese language, which is useful for writers too. It explores wrong usages when speaking and writing in Vietnamese and solutions to fix the mistakes.

The Autobiography covers my childhood during the wars and the state-subsidised economy period.

The Autobiography can be considered to be the one in which I have revealed myself the most as I have written about things that happened to me and my family, while Wandering in Words directly expresses my views of life and arts, which is different from my fictional works where I revealed myself indirectly. In the Autobiography, I have written about what I witnessed during the American war and the state-subsidised period. The readers who lived in Viet Nam at that time would see themselves in my stories. They might be inspired enough to start their own blogs to tell their own similar stories.

You got a PhD in Oriental Studies in the US and India. What urged you to do that? Was it the result of being a diplomat or a writer?

Sometimes choices are made naturally. At that time I was a young diplomat. Scholarships were available and I just stepped forward. Only now, when I look back, I see everything happened as my destiny. At that time I was nearly 30, and I knew nothing about India but I did choose India. I have been invited to give lectures in the US, India, South Korea and Sweden. I would write despite the jobs I got. But only as a diplomat could I become the writer that I am today.

How have qualifications and knowledge helped you in writing and understanding people?

I think it's very simple. People don't need to learn to know how to love, but in order to possess a great love, they should learn. They don't need to learn how to write, but in order to become a great writer, they should learn a lot. I think a writer is greedier than anyone else. He/she should learn a lot, travel a lot and have more time to work.

How does the wisdom of an intellectual and the romance of a person with lots of imagination live together inside a writer?

Each coexistence is difficult, even when we live with our parents, siblings or spouses. It needs an art to make that cohabitation harmonious, to reduce differences and increase similarities.

You always work very hard and for long hours. How do you relax?

I am a bookworm and a cinema fan at the same time. Every day, I watch movies for two hours on my HD drive, not on TV. I also travel a lot. A month without travelling from the city I live in would make me uncomfortable.

As a writer working actively to introduce Vietnamese literature to the world, what do you think Vietnamese literature lacks when it comes to climbing the list of the world's top works?

In every field such as economics, politics, society and culture, besides the arts, Viet Nam has distinguished individuals. Just as in the Olympic Games, some individuals may take the gold, silver and bronze medals. But as a whole team, Viet Nam has never been among the top 100.

I have worked in many foreign countries and I often feel that the Vietnamese people should make more efforts and be stricter in judging themselves to catch up with other countries.

What are your writing plans?

I know that I have to work harder to realise all my plans, such as writing a collection of plays, a novel of magical realism about Ha Noi during the American War, a novel on diplomacy and a novel about the Buddha's era. Maybe I'm too greedy and should reduce my ambition. — VNS

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