In my endless quest to read books by women from around the globe, I read Paradise of the Blind by Vietnamese author Duong Thu Huong. Even though Chinh indirectly killed Ton, Tam loves Hang with her whole heart because she is the family's lone descendant. As Tam would do anything for Hang, Que feels the same toward Chinh and his two children. While writing of impoverished conditions in post war Vietnam, Huong provides luscious prose in her descriptions of the village where Tam lives as well as Hang's constant feelings of despair. Paradise of the Blind is the second book I read by a Vietnamese author this year but the first to take place in Vietnam.
Losing paradise makes us seeing, knowing, understanding human beings, but also lost souls, people on the run, disoriented and disintegrated. The old way of worshipping ancestors and living for the honour and wealth of the family is put in contrast with the ideology of Moscow-ruled communism. My relief was almost physical when I saw her walk away from the situation and escape her blind paradise in the end: "I can't squander my life tending these faded flowers, these shadows, the legacy of past crimes." By leaving the suffocatingly beautiful setting of her paradise of the blind behind, Hang completes her training as a seeing human being and is ready to enter the stage of the world.
Con esta historia llena de nostalgia, Doung Thu Houng nos transporta a su querida Vietnam. Es una historia dura, llena de crítica hacía la guerra, el machismo, el abuso del poder de las autoridades.
On one level this national obsession with food - and at parts Paradise of the Blind does read a little like a cookbook - digs at a deeper level the various political implications of Confucianism, Communism and the land-reforms which wreak havoc upon the characters of the book. It is Aunt Tam, a victim of the brutal land reforms, who in her rejection of what she supposes are old-fashioned traditions in favour for perspiration, who amasses a fortune of opulent excess, allowing her to dote upon Hang, essentially commodifying the last link in her blood-line. The characters within Paradise of the Blind all act as tradesmen, either literally as vendors and smugglers, or as metaphysical businessmen in the act of bartering cultural value. Such value Dng explicitly projects through the novel itself in its exuberantly colourful descriptions of Hanoi's various markets and banquets; she places a value on the reading experience, allowing us to buy into the book's exotic nature in the same way Hang buys herself into a stable class structure. Such significance, especially cultural, becomes in the end criticised and exploited by Dng. Hang in realising this must ask why she must follow tradition and give up her education to become an 'exported worker'? Hang is not the only character indebted to the past: Aunt Tam, although outwardly a independent woman, is a slave to the patriarchal memory of her dead brother, a legacy which she tries to live through via Hang. Hope, as always, is present and she returns to Vietnam one last time to bury the dual shackles which have so far oppressed her; the novel's conclusion reads a little artificial and mawkish but there could be no other end for a novel about empowerment.
Unlike the usual denizens of the latter, this is a little less white and male and self-titled as apolitical, and while the former was less boring, its collection of women of color in translation is minuscule, with this the most likely being its only representative from Vietnam. I personally like this work, but it's always good to bear in mind how the status quo fuels itself on the fresh blood of diversity while minimizing the reader's incentive to follow said criminally brief diversity off the beaten track. I understand something, perhaps for the first time: In every life, there must come a moment when what is most sacred, most noble, in us evaporates into thin air. Obviously this is a dangerous simplification, and PotB (ableist title that it is) is but one of many, if one of the more holistic, books and experiences one would have to engage with to get a grip on communism, socialism, and the capitalism I've been functioning obtusely under for the better part of a quarter of a century. While there are those who hate the idea of undermining of capitalism for the sake of keeping billions of dollars out of circulation so that others may starve, there is the simple fact that the social web keeps millions alive, and no movement can be considered a necessary revolution if any of those with disabilities or neuroatypicalities or economic disadvantages are viewed as a practical sacrifice for the fit and able when the system comes crashing down. The biographical note has informed me that this is one of a somewhat trilogy, so while I really do need to branch out from this single author Vietnamese lit show, I'll be keeping an eye out for "Beyond Illusions" and "Fragments of Lost Life". As said before, this work has broken into the status quo of the Neo-Euro estimation of lit enough for others to catch wind and follow their reading sensibilities to unfamiliar landscapes.
Like "Clear Light of Day", this novel is a family drama which women writers, like Duong Thu Huong and Anita Desai, seem to write exceptionally well. Ton belonged to a landed family at the time Vietnam became communist. The brother of Hang's mother, her Uncle Chinh, was a petty, local communist tyrant who had a myopic view of the Vietnamese society: the good guys are the proletariat and those who own lands or have servants are the enemies of the people. She never forgave Chinh, however, for her brother's death and their family's suffering. Hang hates her Uncle Chinh but tries to show him respect, even outward affection, for the sake of her mother whom she love above all others. Her mother does not hate her Aunt Tam (with whom Hang had grown attached) but resents the latter's hatred for her brother Chinh.
This book covers not just the subject of the Vietnamese war and its aftermath, but also the export workers to Tussia, a subject I know little about.
At the age of twenty, when she was a student at Vietnamese Ministry of Cultures Arts College, Dng Thu Hng volunteered to serve in a womens youth brigade on the front lines of The War Against the Americans". She was also at the front during Chinas attacks on Vietnam in 1979 during the short-lived Sino-Vietnamese War. However, in the period after Vietnams reunification in 1975, Dng became increasingly outspoken and critical about the repressive atmosphere created by the Communist government.