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Memoir shines light on pandemic across continents

January, 09/2022 - 08:44

Vietnamese-French writer Bùi Thị Hồng Vân (pen name Nuage Rose) has recently published her second memoir "120 Ngày Mây Thì thầm Với Gió" (120 Days of Whispers from Cloud to Wind) on her unforgettable circumstances during the pandemic in Hà Nội and Paris.

Vietnamese-French writer Bùi Thị Hồng Vân (pen name Nuage Rose) has recently published her second memoir 120 Ngày Mây Thì Thầm Với Gió (120 Days of Whispers from Cloud to Wind) about her unforgettable circumstances during the pandemic in Hà Nội and Paris.

This is her second book published by Trẻ (Youth) Publishing House. Her first book Trois Nuage au Pays des Nenuphars (Three Clouds in the Country of Nenuphars) covers her memories of wartime.

The original French book won the Most Favourite title from the French Writers Association and was introduced at book fairs in Belgium, France and Switzerland. It was then translated into Vietnamese and has won the hearts of many Vietnamese people.

Writer Bùi Thị Hồng Vân, pen name Nuage Rose. Photo courtesy of the writer

Lê Hương speaks with Vân about her new book and memories.

Inner Sanctum: Why did you decide to write the book? Why did you choose the non-fiction genre?

I experienced the year 2020 in a special way. The year was also very special for all human beings, and the same for my family, and me in particular.

The common and individual experience was condensed in a short period. It dug into, and stirred round memories, feelings and ideology. It did so in a chaotic and non-stop way. I needed a silent time to arrange my thoughts, and settle from the chaos.

The book is just an arrangement of my thinking and feelings that have been hidden somewhere inside me for the past 40 years.

The book was listed in a new genre for Trẻ Publishing House – “non-fiction literature”. I will let my audience judge the literary aspects of my story. It's “non-fiction” because all what happens in the book is real.

I sincerely wanted to share with any people who think "the pandemic is something faraway, in other province, other city, somewhere in quarantine areas…’’

All the painful lessons and prices to pay are completely non-fiction.

Inner Sanctum: Your first memoir was written in French. Now you have written this story in Vietnamese. Did you have any difficulties?

Well, I had a lot of difficulties.

Firstly, I lack self-confidence. After 40 years living far from the motherland, my Vietnamese, if not shrinking, is rather insufficient.

Like other languages, which change after years and generations, the Vietnamese language is the same.

But I was determined to keep the Hanoian words of my old days.

During the time I wrote the story, I had been hindered by quarantine, curfew and rushed by deadlines. So in my last months, Minh Trang, an editor from the publishing house, and I worked all day until late at night.

More than once we had to use French, English and Vietnamese to argue and persuade each other over a word or a sentence. It was hard work but interesting and useful.

Inner Sanctum: Many things that happened to you in real life are recorded in the story. Which things and feelings do you most like to share with audiences?

All were real things that happened to me. And I want to share all, including family stuff or personal whispers: all things that anyone can experience; all things we may have forgotten; all words that we have excluded from our popular language.

Being a đồng bào (compatriot), for many decades, turned out to be so meaningful "thanks to" the pandemic.

Đoàn kết (solidarity) came back to show its concrete face, rather than being a meaningless slogan or notion.

Inner Sanctum: Could you brief us on the process of editing and choosing illustrations for the book? From who did you receive support?

I’m afraid the answer may be a little long.

Two agencies helped me start working on it very quickly: Trẻ Publishing House, who has always encouraged and supported me since my first book, and VTV4 [Việt Nam Television, channel 4].

Hoàng Linh, an employee from VTV4, was the first to read my first draft pages in French, before we decided to work together.

Two other friends of mine read, encouraged and contributed their opinion.

Trang from Trẻ Publishing House and writer Trương Quý supported me the most in the technical aspects of the writing.

As for the illustrations, painter Marcelino Trương, who cannot speak and read Vietnamese, helped me a lot, We have been friends for many years. He read many of my drafts and understood me very well. So when he listened to my idea, he showed me his willingness to support me. He suggested some suitable and beautiful paintings for illustrations.

Inner Sanctum: Are you afraid that in a few years, the story will just be a memoir of a person in the past, instead of remaining forever in the community as a part of history?

Maybe only the future can answer that question.

Human beings have experienced many pandemics, in this or that country or continent. But this time, the pandemic was terrible, violent and injuring ... and it happened when humans seemed to be the owners of technology, nature, science and healthcare.

The pandemic will remain in the community and be a part of the history of the first half of 21st century. It stirred up the whole of humanity, and shook the entire globe, excluding no corner of the world.

It will remain in the world community’s memory.

The writer (left) speaks with a reader at a book fair in Geneva in April 2017. Photo courtesy of the writer 

Inner Sanctum: Many details in the story expressed your optimism, even when you were very hungry, tired and lonely. How could you maintain that optimism? Could you brief us how you wrote it? Did you keep taking notes during your journeys?

That’s a topic I mentioned in VTV programme Ngày Trở Về 2021 (Return Day 2021).

Vitality, potentiality and antibodies resulted from the hardship of the war time, which has given me the realisation that my memory is marked very deep somewhere inside my subconscience.

I have kept a habit of noting things, including small events and small circumstances. Then I jot down my feelings for those, otherwise they will be over and I could not catch them again.

Inner Sanctum: Could you tell me about your intention to use the proceeds of your book for charity? Who do you want to give the money to?

I had that intention since my first book Ba Áng Mây Trôi Dạt Xứ Bèo.

Maybe there’s no answer for "why’' in the question here. It came naturally.

I know many charity groups and associations, most of which pay for food, clothes and other material things. These are essential for the needy.

But I want to make my small contribution to education, encouraging needy children to read more, and love literature, painting and the arts in general. It's very simple, like that.

Inner Sanctum: That book was published in Vietnamese. Do you think one day you will translate it into French and English?

I actually wrote the draft in French. But as soon as I started writing the Vietnamese version, I found out that translation was impossible. So I re-wrote it in Vietnamese. I am completing the French version, which surely cannot be exactly like the Vietnamese version.

Inner Sanctum: Do you have any future plans in writing?

I will try to finish the French version of this story.

I will finish the next book about Hà Nội after 1975, which was the second after Ba Áng Mây Trôi Giạt Xứ Bèo.

120 Ngày Mây Thì Thầm Với Gió was published earlier, but it was actually my third book. VNS

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