Crossing the River: Short Fiction by Nguyen Huy Thiep

ISBN: 1880684926
ISBN 13: 9781880684924
By: Nguyễn Huy Thiệp Dana Sachs Nguyen Nguyet Cam Nguyet

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Asia Asia Fiction Asian Lit The Road To Read Viet Nam Vietnam Vietnamese Literature Wish List World

About this book

Crossing the River presents a wide range of Nguyen Huy Thiep's short fiction, both realistic stories in contemporary settings and retellings of folk myths that serve as contemporary parables. When Thiep's stories first appeared in the 1980s, they set off a chain of debate, not only within intellectual and political circles, but also within the society at large. Typically, the struggles of his characters were about survival, not survival in the context of war or revolution, but survival in the context of the emotional and psychological strength it takes to live within the harsh confines of post-war Vietnamese society. Thiep captured the emotional quality of Vietnamese life in a way no other author had done, and his importance can be recognized today by his enormous influence on younger writers.

Reader's Thoughts


A lovely collection of short stories--my favorite book from a Vietnamese writer so far.


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.


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.

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