Crossing the River: Short Fiction by Nguyen Huy Thiep, Nguyen Nguyet Cam and Dana Sachs (ed.), Curbstone Press, 2003In the late 1980s, Vietnam was one of the poorest countries in the world. Combine post-war devastation with less-than-component running of the economy and the loss of a major source of aid, the Soviet Union, and the Vietnamese government started a process of renovation or "doi moi." The intention was to bring the economy more in line with market forces, but the government also eased its controls on Vietnamese literature. The author’s stories created a huge sensation and open controversy with their depiction of a society full of individualism and greed. This was in great contrast to the proletarian, government-approved stories that had been published up until that time. Some of these tales take place in the present day, while others include famous figures from Vietnamese history. Even the historical stories are characterized by alienation and lack of patriotism.This book is really good. These stories are about humanity, about people just trying to get through this thing called life. They are universal stories that could have been set anywhere in the world. It is very much worth reading, once the reader gets past the lack of familiarity with Vietnamese culture.Richard
Nguyen Huy Thiep is a well known writer in Vietnam, remarkable for the way that his stories present the cruelties of man to each other (and themselves) and yet were widely circulated and popular. This collection from Curbstone Press collects together a wide range of stories that are translated by such writers as Linh Dinh and Dana Sachs. I first came across Nguyen Huy Thiep in the intriguing collection of Vietnamese fiction, Night, Again. The story in there, "Without a King," is the story of a woman marrying into a family that is both cruel and loving, with a myriad of inner struggles and rivalries, including a brother who has an eye for the woman brought into their home. Many of Nguyen's stories are equally complex and wonderfully dark, examining the depth of their characters and allowing them to have their spiritual realizations and their moments of outrageous inconsideration and violence. Nguyen's writing is almost journalistic at times, with narrators who report the events of the stories, giving them an almost chilling verisimilitude. Another powerful story here is "The General Retires," the story of an old soldier who comes home only to face further wars there, only of a psychological kind. One of my favorite stories in here was "Rain," a rather short piece that examines love and separation. While I found myself quite impressed by Nguyen's talent, I also found myself rather put off by the sloppiness of the collection and some of the translations. Aside from finding occasional gross grammatical errors ('lightening' instead of 'lightning,' for example), but the separations between stories were sometimes quite bare, with a mere translator's note crammed into the bottom margin. Translations by Linh Dinh and Brigit Hussfeld conveyed a highly competent writer with a tight hold on his craft and form, while others felt loose in a way that I would chalk up more to poor translators than Nguyen. The commentaries, including the sophomoric comparison of Nguyen to Dostoevsky and Faulkner on the back cover, are all rather bland. I gained for more respect for Nguyen as a writer from the competently translated stories themselves rather than the editorial package, which offered little of interest on this writer I would like to know more about.Heather
A lovely collection of short stories--my favorite book from a Vietnamese writer so far.