Curbstone Press keeps Vietnam literature in front of us

April 11, 1999
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@

Remember Vietnam? At least one American publishing company is encouraging people to remember that country and America's role in its recent history. Curbstone Press of Connecticut is the publisher of a "Voices From Vietnam" series. So far, two books in the series have been published and a third is on the way.

The first in 1995 was "The Other Side of Heaven: Postwar Fiction by Vietnamese and American Writers" edited by Wayne Karlin, Le Minh Khue and Truong Vu. The second is a collection of short stories by Ho Anh Thai titled "Behind the Red Mist." A 500-page novel, "Against the Flood" by Ma Van Khang, is planned as third in the series.

"Red Mist's" Ho Anh Thai is the author of 11 works of fiction. Winner of several of Vietnam's most prestigious literary awards, he published his first short story when he was still in high school. When the editors accepted that story, they did not know the author was only 17.

Born in 1960, Thai was evacuated from Hanoi to escape American bombs when he was a child and lived in refuge areas in the countryside between 1966 and 1973. He graduated from high school in 1977 and then studied at the College of Diplomacy, earning his bachelor's degree in 1983. He was drafted and served in the Army for three years until he entered the Foreign Ministry. During his career as a diplomat, he studied in Australia and India and earned an advanced degree in oriental culture in New Delhi in 1991. Five of the stories in "Red Mist" are set in India.

"Behind the Red Mist," a novella from which the collection's title comes, is about a teen-ager in 1987 who experiences an electric shock and is transported back in time 20 years to wartime Vietnam shortly before his parents' marriage.

"'Behind the Red Mist,' a best-seller in Vietnam, seems to express a yearning by the postwar generation to look through the mist of heroic myth and authority that shrouds the generation of the war, not to debunk but to examine its own origins clearly," says Karlin in the introduction.

The characters in the short story collection range from a party official who turns into a goat while watching porno movies to an Indian who carries his mother's bones around in a knapsack because he promised never to leave her alone, from a war widow desperately trying to piece her life together to a woman who practices infanticide so her village doesn't have to raise female children.

The protagonist in another story, "The Man Who Believed in Fairy Tales," is a Vietnamese man who after living in the United States for six months wakes up one morning to find he has turned into a white American with an large nose and blue eyes. When he returns to Vietnam he finds that he is suddenly very much in demand as an American who can speak Vietnamese fluently. His approval is sought to legitimize projects and behavior. Set in present-day Vietnam, the story gently mocks those who adopt the worst aspects of Western culture and those who think: If it's Western, it's good.

Ho Anh Thai currently lives in Hanoi where he is the editor of World Affairs Weekly and a member of the Hanoi Writers Association. In the fall of 1998 he was writer-in-residence at the University of Washington in Seattle.

"Good writing allows you to see life through someone else's filter," said Karlin in a phone interview from his home in Maryland. "In Ho Anh Thai's case, the universality of his characters give us the ability to bridge the differences between us."

Karlin served in the U.S. Marine Corps in Vietnam.

"The war was such a strong influence on my life that I had to write about it," he said. He has published several novels in addition to his memoir, "Rumors & Stones," which was published in 1995. When Karlin began to meet Vietnamese writers he realized that they, too, had gone through similar pain and suffering caused by cultural blindness.

Curbstone Press, a non-profit publishing house, presents its readers with diverse voices, voices that might not be published elsewhere, in order to make the culture richer and less one-dimensional.

"Behind the Red Mist" ($14.95) and other books in the Vietnam series can be ordered from Curbstone by phone at (860) 423-5110 or by e-mail at

To inquire about ordering any of the above mentioned books from an independent bookstore,
Bogey's Books [ Click Here ]

[Author Menu] [Date Menu] [Genre Menu] [Printed Matter Home]
The Davis Virtual Market