Chinatown by Thuan

Chinatown by Thuan

Vietnamese fiction

Original title – Chinatown

Translator – Nguyễn An Lý

Source – subscription edition

I now move to a book from Vietnam that in some ways seems to mirror part of the own writer’s life. She grew up in North Vietnam where she grew up with a love of Vietnamese literature and the greats of French literature like Balzac, Hugo and Flaubert. Then she got the chance to study in Russia which expand her reading more. Then lead to her moving to France to live Paris. This is the latest from my Tilted axis subscription and as they did so well last year in the booker international prize I decided this year `I would get to the books when they arrived and this was a perch choice for this month as it is from a female writer from Vietnam and also it is the first book from Vietnam I will have reviewed on the blog.

During my ten years at school, I came to understand that the pig brains for which my father queued from morning till afternoon were not a reward for my ten in literature, but to guarantee that I
would bring home another ten, in history or military exercises. That was why his pig brains needed no dill, pepper, or MSG, and no attempt to enliven their presentation. Even now I can still see
them, aluminum bowls in the steaming rice pot, and taste the metallic tang of blood which no amount of salt could mask, and which I always had to down in one gulp. I didn’t care for steamed
pig brains, I had no disease to be cured by them, but every other day I closed my eyes and my nostrils and downed them in one, because they were most nutritious, especially for the brain, and
most of all for a child’s. It was my duty to turn catjang soup and steamed pig brains into tens and praise

This is an evocative passage that caught me when I was reading.

The book has a framing device and that is the narrator is waiting on a platform on the metro for a train when a package is discovered and the police are coming to have a look at what it is. Our narrator is caught in her thoughts and this takes us through her life from her early years in Vietnam but then we see how she met the man she would marry Thuy a Chinese man from Vietnam this is set as there is a war between the two countries and she meets him in class this leads to trouble;e with her family the book isn’t linear more it is wonderfully evocative as it seems like how we would remember love or the way you look back on a past love that one Thuy reminds me of an earlier girlfriend I had for a number of years and lived with that first big love and that when I look back event aren’t in a linear narrative more it jumps at times and her it is similar we see how they meet then spend time apart. but then meet and married and it showed how hard this was at the time in Vietnam which it is the 80s there is a huge Chinese feeling in the country and this is one of the things that highlights the deep divide in the two cultures at the time as the two falls in love and the knock out effect on the tow na their families then we find her later in France and how she andThuy drifted apart and eventually she hadn’t seen him in years. Add to this is her studying in the Soviet Union at this time and then moving to France this is a globetrotting book.

 

my Sino-Vietnamese wedding that actually took place, they opted not to attend. Neither did Thuy’s parents. The day went by in a flurry. The only guests were my few friends from
Leningrad. They came with their children. Their children born in the USSR, who’d had just a taste of butter and milk before boarding the plane to the homeland. The wedding was their first time
meeting Thuy. They asked me in Russian, so this is your architect beau. He didn’t understand. He just smiled awkwardly. He stood there embarrassed. Then they asked him, in Vietnamese, where are
you working, which office, which department. This time he was even more embarrassed. His smile grew fixed.

Another about getting married.

Thuran is a translator and a huge fan of French literature and I can see part of some of my favourite writers for me it has a pick off Modiano (maybe cause been talking about him a bit recently ) there is a flip in the sex of the character usually it is a male character in his book looking back on memories here Madame Au is looking back on her love the bare bones of the story is similar to the writer’s life but she then said in an interview she hadn’t wanted to duo memoir this is deeper more mediative around love across a divide exile and looking back at times that love affair. I was reminded in a small way of the English patient the love affair in that novel se t against war and Ondaatje is another writer heavy on memory, love, war and division. The book is dense in it style but worth the effort and is a great book from a new writer. It has part of the new novel movement, Proust and a love story all in one. Have you a favourite book from Vietnam ?(I had a nam le on my shelves but want something translated as my first book from Vietnam ) . My third book of this month and the first new country for a while on the blog.

Winstons score – B is a solid book from a new voice her first book to be translated into English she has more so hopefully we will get more from her.

September 2022
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