Monday, January 25, 2016

Night, Again

Picked up an anthology of 12 short stories from Vietnamese authors. Titled 'Night, Again: Contemporary Fiction from Vietnam', the collection is edited by Vietnamese-American poet and writer Linh Dinh. It was published in 1996 and re-issued in 2006 with two new stories. Many of the writers had their books banned after the 1986 Đổi Mới.

This isn't a genre I normally touch, so obviously the authors are unfamiliar. Neither are the stories familiar in the way folk tales are. But set in the city during those decades, the sadness that wraps many characters are of that era of mass emigration from Vietnam. I do know, the turbulent political and social history of those times.

Not one of these stories has a 'happy ending' as we know it. They seem to be a reflection of society then, and the authors' somewhat cynical real-life observations of the human psyche. It's like how life puts them down even though they tried doing it differently. Of lost romantic love and family ties that bind too tightly. The stories are stark comments about the cycle of poverty and the nastiness of the human soul. It's a sobering read. I welcome that.

Le Minh Khue's 'Scenes from an Alley' is evenly paced, but so painful to read, especially at the end when we learnt of how a couple wished an old man dead because it was getting tiresome to care for him.

Every night, both the husband and wife thought about Mrs. Tit. They wished they could be like her, finally rid of their terrible burden, while at the same time suddenly finding themselves with some extra millions in their pockets. This family was rich already. But who would turn down a few million more? If luck came their way and the drunk Westerner happened to plow into their ninety-year-old father, they would accept only 10 million. No, it would have to be more. ... 
Whenever their obsession reached such a point, although neither husband nor wife said a word to the other, they both pricked up their ears. It was still summer, and only in summer could they use the pretext of the cool breezes to let a ninety-year-old man fall asleep outside. But why during these days was the Westerner so rarely drunk? He no longer sped into the alley, but instead drove very slowly. 

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