A “phenomenon” of modern literature passes away

March 21, 2021 - 07:19

Writer Nguyễn Huy Thiệp, who has been considered a phenomenon of Vietnamese literature passed away on Sunday at his home in Hà Nội. He was 71.

HÀ NỘI  -  Writer Nguyễn Huy Thiệp, who has been considered a phenomenon of Vietnamese literature passed away on Sunday at his home in Hà Nội. He was 71.

After suffering a stroke last March, he has been dependent on family members for most of his personal activities.

Despite being bedridden, he still composed poems and painted.

The passing of his wife at the end of last year hit Thiệp hard, and his condition deteriorated.

Poet Trần Đăng Khoa said Thiệp passing means Vietnamese literature has lost ‘a big old tree'.

Writer Nguyễn Huy Thiệp at an event hosted by Trẻ (Youth) Publishing House a few years ago when he was healthy. File Photo

“I think during the period of 1985-1996, no one could write short stories better than Thiệp,” Khoa said.

“He had a special style, short and sharp. Luckily he was among the list for the State Prize in Literature and Arts this year, which is worthy recognition for his talent and contributions.”

On March 17, Thiệp submitted to the State for the prize for his two short stories namely Tướng Về Hưu (Retired Army General) and Những Ngon Gió Hua Tát (Winds in Hua Tát Village).

His latest piece was a traditional opera script Vong Bướm (Butterflies’ Souls) written in 2012. In 2018, he published the novel Tuổi 20 Yêu Dấu (Beloved 20s), which was completed in 2003, in which the main character is his own son, a drug addict suffering from urbanisation.

In his 50-year writing career, among 50 short stories, Tướng Về Hưu has been considered one of his most successful pieces.

Thiệp started writing when he was 36 with a short story printed in Văn Nghệ (Literature and Arts) newspaper on June 20, 1987.

Critic Vương Trí Nhàn said: "With a profound style of writing of an experienced person, who was losing much belief and hope in life, in Tướng Về Hưu, the writer sketches a scene where pragmatism is widely spread among people, turning into people’s habits. In that place, everyone is stubborn and get used to their stubbornness." 

The story was made into a film under the same title by director Nguyễn Khắc Lợi and released in 1988.

Writer Nguyễn Quang Thiều, chairman of Việt Nam Writer’s Association, once noted that Thiệp dared to speak up the truth.

"Literature should not always make people feel happy and satisfied but it should also make people feel ashamed,” Thiều said at a workshop on literature in 2016. “Thiệp must have been hurt inside very much to speak out the painful truth."

Thiệp himself often said: "Above ‘harsh reality’ should be ‘honesty’. Writer should write the truth."

Researcher Phan Cẩm Thượng judged Thiệp among the few distinguished writers of 20th century.

According to Thượng, after Nam Cao, only Thiệp is a writer with sharp ideology. While Nam Cao wrote very well on Vietnamese peasants of the first half of 20th century, Thiệp acted the same role in the second half of 20th century.

Thượng said if there was an award like the “golden pen” for the best writer every year, in 1987 and the first half of 1988, the winner for that title should have been Nguyễn Huy Thiệp. 

Thiệp was born in 1950 in the northern province of Thái Nguyên. As a child during the war, he moved with his family through various countryside areas in provinces of Thái Nguyên, Phú Thọ and Vĩnh Phúc. He graduated from History Faculty, of Hà Nội Teachers Training College.

He was awarded the French Literature and Arts Medal in 2007 and the Premio Nonino prize by Italian authorities in 2008.

His distinguished works include Tướng Về Hưu (short story, 1987), Những Ngọn Gió Hua Tát (collection of short stories and drama scripts, 1989), Tiểu Long Nữ (novel, 1996), Tuổi 20 Yêu Dấu (novel, published in France in 2002). VNS