A taste of local literature

March 28, 2021 - 09:19

In an effort to proactively present Vietnamese literature to foreign readers, Hà Nội Publishing House has recently released a bilingual Vietnamese-English anthology of short stories: A Rainy Night in the City (Một đêm mưa trong thành phố). 


The cover of "A Rainy Night in the City", a collection of short stories, released by the Hà Nội Publishing House. Photo courtesy of Hồ Anh Thái

by Đông Đô

In an effort to give foreign readers greater access to Vietnamese literature, the Hà Nội Publishing House has recently released a bilingual Vietnamese-English anthology of short stories entitled Một Đêm Mưa Trong Thành Phố (A Rainy Night in the City).

The publication is sponsored by the Hà Nội Department of Information and Communications and is aimed at those who appreciate literature. It is also hoped that it will send Vietnamese literature to prestigious international book fairs in Gothenburg (Sweden), Kolkata (India), and Frankfurt (Germany), among others.

Co-edited by novelist Hồ Anh Thái and American writer-poet Paul Christiansen, A Rainy Night in the City includes short stories by authors from different generations.

It features the works of writers prior to the August Revolution in 1945, like Tô Hoài; those who fought in both the anti-French and US wars, such as Ma Văn Kháng; writers who fought in the anti-US war, such as Lê Minh Khuê, Đoàn Lê and Tô Hải Vân; members of the post-war generation, including Trần Thùy Mai and Hồ Anh Thái; a large cohort from the 1986 Đổi Mới (Renewal) period, such as Nguyễn Huy Thiệp, Bảo Ninh, Phan Thị Vàng Anh, and Nguyễn Thị Thu Huệ; and even writers who emerged in the early 21st century, like Nguyễn Ngọc Thuần.

The anthology also introduces female voices with diverse styles: Đoàn Lê, Lê Minh Khuê, Phan Thị Vàng Anh, Nguyễn Thị Thu Huệ, Trần Thùy Mai, Y Ban, and Võ Thị Xuân Hà.

The settings of the stories stretch from the capital Hà Nội to the northern, central, and southern regions.

From the Red River Delta, they extend over to the northwest highlands (Love Story on a Rainy Night by Nguyễn Huy Thiệp), and even follow Vietnamese people beyond the country’s borders, to foreign lands.

The authors conjure up memories of the distant past (A Sad Love Story by Tô Hoài), wartime experiences (A Marker on the Side of the Boat by Bảo Ninh), work on construction sites (The Last Rain of the Monsoon by Lê Minh Khuê), and labouring in the fields (Rice and Salt - by Võ Thị Xuân Hà).

They also capture personal emotions and the drama of family life (A Light that is Always On by Ma Văn Kháng, The Last Night in Our Double Bed by Đoàn Lê, and Thương by Phan Thị Vàng Anh), and even the intermingling of spiritual emotions and secular feelings (Remembrance of the Ylang-Ylang Flower by Trần Thùy Mai, and A Scoop of Holy Water by Hồ Anh Thái).

As is often the case in a collection that includes many authors, the editors focused on presenting fresh perspectives and topics that contribute to the existing body of available literature.

The anthology’s explorations include a diversity of subject matter, as described above, and also an emphasis on new styles, as exemplified by a variety of structures, language use, and literary techniques.

Some stories rely on vagaries and mystery to blend fantasy and reality and spark readers’ imaginations by leaving them with questions, some of which have no answers.

Readers will encounter inexplicable phenomena, such as in Cats in a Strange City by Tô Hải Vân, A Scoop of Holy Water by Hồ Anh Thái, and Rope Ladder by Nguyễn Thị Thu Huệ.

Unique narrative forms can also be found in Her Schedule on Saturday by Nguyễn Ngọc Thuần.

The co-editor, American writer-poet Christiansen, is also Content Director for Saigoneer, a Saigon-based arts and culture publication. He holds a master’s of fine arts, and his essays and poems have appeared widely in America and Việt Nam.

The book relies on the work of many translators in Việt Nam and the US. Translators currently living and working in the US, including Rosemary Nguyen, Linh Dinh, Peter Saidel, Wayne Karlin Bac Hoai Tran, and Dana Sachs, as well as Christiansen and novelist Thái, have decided to donate their royalties from the volume to a fund for Việt Nam war veterans that contributes to Project Renew, which helps victims of landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) in Quảng Trị Province.

Novelist Thái said A Rainy Night in the City may be the first in a series of bilingual Vietnamese-English fiction that takes Vietnamese literature beyond Việt Nam’s borders.

Over the past few decades, Vietnamese authors have only reached foreign audiences via the publication of a number of notable works selected and released by foreign publishers.

This anthology is thus significant in being released by a prestigious publisher that actively seeks to introduce quality Vietnamese literature abroad, without waiting passively for foreign publishers. VNS