Viet Nam News
Vietnamese-French writer Bùi Thị Hồng Vân (pen name Nuage Rose) revived memories of wartime and evoked interest in Việt Nam’s history among young people with her book, Trois Nuage au Pays des Nenuphars (Three Clouds in the Country of Nenuphars). The book won the Most Favourite title from the French Writers Association and was introduced at book fairs in Belgium, France and Switzerland. It was recently published in Vietnamese. The book tells the story of a small girl who had to be evacuated from Hà Nội during the American air war against North Việt Nam. Her book restores the fragrance of villages and colours of memories with a softness and tenderness that contrasts with the violence and madness of war.
The author spoke to Minh Thu about her own memories of the past and present emotions.
Inner Sanctum: Congratulations on the success of your book. I have heard that the story is about to be filmed. Can you tell us something about this?
I’m happy to share with Việt Nam News readers the latest information about the book. The Trẻ (Youth) Publishing House has told me that the Vietnamese version of the book will be reprinted after just seven months. As an author, I’m honoured and happy.
Well, producing a film based on the story is another joy. Just like the book’s publishing, adapting the book to film is something that I’d never imagined. I just handed the fate of Three Clouds to someone I trusted, since the director plays the most important role. Once I trust, I will respect and follow his way. The purpose is not to make a bestseller or do a business. I just want to create an artwork and help people know more about war time.Việt Nam won the war. But while the US produced many films about the war, we’ve seldom presented films on this topic to the world.
Inner Sanctum: When you release a book, you tell the story in your own words. But when it is adapted into a film, it goes to more people in another language. What do you think about this?
Not important! The story I told is also the story of millions of Vietnamese people.
Inner Sanctum: Before this autobiography was published, did you tell stories of the past to your children, both the beautiful memories and the hardships?
My children, Vanessa and Joachim Muhlheim, were born and raised in France. They lived as a French family, enjoyed the French social environment and went to French schools. It is natural and there is nothing to bother or worry about. Myself, I was away from home, studying and working in France, and I also integrated into the French life.
What does Tết (Lunar New Year) mean to me, when I am alone, living around the French? There is no flower market! No firecrackers! Bánh chưng (square glutinous cake) is bought from the Chinese market. Even my Tết is not a holiday in France.
One day, I thought about my children and asked myself: Who are you going to be? Is there something that you can pass on to them about your homeland, relatives, and traditions.
Memories and nostalgia burst out in my mind. I wanted to share these with my children. From the small memories, the New Year, the moments I lived peacefully with family, I wanted Vanessa and Joachim to know it. Just like that! We talked, no structure, no sequence.
And above all, I wanted them to speak Vietnamese. It was very difficult because I’m the only speaking in Vietnamese to them. But my husband understood and encouraged me a lot in educating them.
Inner Sanctum: Are you writing another book? Would you like to share something about it?
The first book, when writing, I wrote it for myself. Not one to sell.
I had no intention of writing 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. For me, I have written because of a very simple reason. I don’t know how to express myself orally. The second book is also about Hà Nội. It’s on the way to publication. I hope I can introduce it to you soon.
Inner Sanctum: May I ask why you always choose to write and publish in French first, not Vietnamese, while these are stories about Việt Nam?
I would like to correct that. I do not "choose". The story was "accidentally" printed. I’m not a professional writer or a famous person. When I finished the book, I 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. When the book was introduced in Việt Nam, many readers asked me the same question.
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. The French language allows me to have the “parenthesis” to tell what I thought I’d forgotten about the past.
Inner Sanctum: In recent years you have returned to Việt Nam often and participated in many cultural activities. Do you have any comment on contemporary Vietnamese literature, authors and the taste of Vietnamese readers?
I will not allow myself to judge readers in any country. That is the freedom of every person. It’s better if people have different tastes. I do not even allow myself to evaluate contemporary authors. I do not know much about contemporary Vietnamese literature. When writing, I never care about taste of readers, because I am not creating a kind of "business literature".
Inner Sanctum: Do you think that life in the past has carried a lot of emotion and greater inspiration to write than the current life?
It’s complicated. The past always makes me sad and regretful. Sad memories make us sad to think of them, of course. And for beautiful memories, we still feel sad that they are gone.
Inner Sanctum: Hà Nội is developing rapidly, and this has many corollaries – population explosion, pollution and so on. The ancient beauty is being lost. How do you feel about this when you return to the city?
It is inevitable, if we want the country to develop and our descendants to live a modern life, full of facilities.
Everywhere, I find billboards saying "old Hà Nội", "old food", "old town", "ancient tradition" and "old phở". It means everybody remembers and regrets things that have been lost. But of course, no one can give up the modern life and its comforts. When I first returned, I used to go to bed with an image of Hà Nội and memories of when I was small. Even on hot summer nights, no electricity, lying on the floor, opening the door to receive the breeze and hearing the cicadas’ song. How I remember those days! VNS