Great Translations: Paradise of the Blind by Duong Thu Hurong
As my One Minute Geographer friends on Medium know, I am a geographer. I enjoy reading modern translations of novels into English because you get a good read and you learn a bit about life in other countries, the people and their culture. Novels that are translated are often award-winners in their home country, such as the Prix Goncourt in France, the Strega Prize in Italy, or the Akutagawa Prize in Japan.
Here’s a book review of a novel I enjoyed recently from Vietnam: Paradise of the Blind by Duong Thu Hurong
A young Vietnamese woman lives a life of hardship during the time of the US war in Vietnam. Her hardships are of several varieties. First is daily survival in the sense of getting enough food and trying to repair the leaky metal roof on her mother’s hut. Her house is a tarpaper shack in a neighborhood with open sewers where men in the street pee on the walls. But much of her hardship comes from her complex family relationships.
The Setting: The story is set in a village in North Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Later the young woman in the story takes a job as a laborer in a Russian factory and the setting shifts to Moscow.
The Story: (SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW) A young North Vietnamese woman has complex and difficult family relationships. This crowd could take up several episodes on a TV reality show. Her uncle (her mother’s brother) was a SOB who drove her father out of town and out of their lives during a period of Maoist-type land reform and village political purges. Yet her mother still fawns over this brother, now a government official, and she helps out him and his family even though they are better off than she is.
Another complication is her relationship with her father’s mother, whom she calls Auntie. Obviously her ‘aunt’ hates her mother’s brother for what he did to her son. But Auntie has become a wealthy woman and dotes on her niece. This creates tension between the young…