Vietnamese language is modern and subtle enough for great works of literature

Writer Thuan, who is currently living in France and last year won the Vietnamese Writers' Association Award, sat down for an interview about her latest novel, T. Missing.

Like Chinatown and Paris 11th August, T. Missing is about the isolation of individuals whose names are o­nly initials like T. In a cold and heartless world, to disappear seems to be the o­nly way out of the boring stability of modern life.

Are triteness and vulgarity the nature of our everyday life in which we have to eat, sleep, breath and do many other involuntary repetitive things? And what writers try to do is to fight (sometimes to the extreme) against such triteness and vulgarity?

If writers take up their pens because they want to rebel against the triteness of other writers, they perhaps can continue writing for a long time. But if you want to write in order to fight against the boredom of daily life, you'll likely give up your profession after your first work. It is simply because there are many other less strenuous ways to pull o­neself out of sadness and boredom than sit at o­ne's desk and write. With a backpack, you can take the train to Spain. Or o­n Saturday, you can go to the supermarket, buy a big fish weighing 7 hectograms, cook a meal with 7 dishes and invite 7 friends from your 7th grade 17 years ago.

In other words, the purpose of writing and literature should not be to rebel against fits of boredom.

In the past several years, you have "given birth" to 4 novels. The enormous efforts and time that you have put into these works are enough to make o­ne admire you, not to mention the high quality of your books. Is the ability to write (especially novels) uninterruptedly a necessary trait of professional writers?

After finishing the final draft, getting it published, and reading it again, o­ne is tempted to write it all over again. I work hard because I want to write something perfect. If I was contented with what I have written, I wouldn't need to start writing again so soon.

Persistence and hard-work are necessary, not sufficient, requirements in the writing profession. The quality of works is essential. Alexandre Dumas perhaps is o­ne of the most prolific writers in the history of world literature. But to tell the truth, I always confuse the Three Musketeers with his other works. There are beautiful ladies and heroes and goodness's victory over evil in most of his works. o­n the other hand, it is unlikely that a writer creates a masterpiece after o­nly 3 or 4 works.

Vietnamese critics say T. Missing is your most "Westernised" novel. How do you respond to this charge?

Western society has appeared in several works by Vietnamese writers, but it is used o­nly as a background for what can be called "the fate of immigrants" theme. I wanted to create something different. Thus, in T.Missing, the protagonist is a Frenchman who has never traveled outside his country or the world where he grew up in: his world is peopled with his well-groomed and selfish father, his wise but unfortunate mother, his first boring lovers, and his last woman, a mysterious lady named Anna, a department chief with a curled-down moustache, an aristocratic incestuous wife, and many others.

I don't pay attention to the terminologies critics give to my works. As for what is called "Westernised," I am just trying to prove o­ne thing: The Vietnamese language is modern and subtle enough for Vietnamese writers to create themes and topics outside the domain of our small S-shaped land. When every profession tries to meet the demands of globalisation, I don't see anything wrong in the globalisation of literature too.

Why didn't you publish T. Missing in France instead of Vietnam? Is it because you aren't well-known in France and have to face fierce competition? Or is it because Vietnamese readers are easier to please than foreign o­nes?

What if T. Missing will also "disappear" in literary circles? I can't speak for other Vietnamese writers who publish their books overseas. As for myself, after publishing my first work in California, I was so sick of having to bring my work to the post office, buy an envelope, write my address and send my Made in Vietnam product to names known and unknown to me, and go home to wonder whether somebody will take the trouble to read through my book or simply throw it into a trash-can.

It is impossible to use o­ne adjective to describe all readers of literature. I consider myself utterly lucky if o­nly a handful of millions of Vietnamese readers care for my books. As for fame or the lack thereof, they are not important to me.

In your work, o­ne can taste something characteristically Michel Houellebecq, satiric and bitter.

First of all, satire and bitterness are not exclusively Houellebecq's. In my opinion, the writer who combines these two characteristics most brilliantly and fiercely is Celine in Journey to the end of night, which still makes the French indignant half a century later.

Secondly, though I admire Houellebecq's works, I still see a fault. It is the belief in what is called "salvation love". No, the characters in T. Missing are neither so naïve nor illusional. They don't waste their lives looking for a panacea to cure all sorts of illness in modern society, from selfishness, deception to cowardice. To create an ideal protagonist who embodies impossible dreams is not my intention at all.

Beside the differences in geography and culture, what is the biggest difference between a Vietnamese writer living in Vietnam and o­ne who lives in a foreign country?

Immigrant writers are preoccupied with the past, while writers in their native lands often forget the past quickly. To me, neither of these tendencies is a fault. If writers can make the best of either tendency, they can create surprisingly original pieces of literature. Or better still, o­ne can jump from o­ne extreme to another, which makes o­ne's works more complex and interesting.

Source: Tuoi Tre
Translated by VietNamNet Bridge