While Asian protagonists are no longer rare in young adult fiction, some cultures seem more prevalent in the genre than others. Think Jenny Han’s books and the various K-Pop stories, as well as Taiwanese-American stories like Loveboat Taipei and Rent a Boyfriend. In an apparent first, Loan Le’s debut novel, A Pho Love Story, adds to this list with a rom-com featuring Vietnamese-American teens. Although the details of the Vietnamese refugee experience may not be familiar to all teens, the restaurant setting and accompanying food most likely will be.
For my generation, born after the “Renovation” reform of Đổi Mới in 1986, “The War”—as most Vietnamese call what almost everyone else calls the Vietnam War—only exists in history books.
“The challenges faced by the Vietnamese people throughout history are as tall as the tallest mountains,” writes Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai in the first chapter of The Mountains Sing. This is no exaggeration: wars, famine and political revolution test her characters, various members of the extended Tran family, to the limit. This engrossing family saga, both Quế Mai’s debut novel and her first book in English, provides a fresh, and ultimately uplifting, perspective on the American-Vietnamese war.
When Emily Clements finds herself alone in Vietnam after her best friend suddenly departs for Australia, she tries to make the best of her opportunity to see Southeast Asia. Only nineteen, Clements quickly picks up the language and goes out of her way to meet Hanoians. This memoir of her year in Vietnam is not, however, a typical expat book about immersing oneself into another culture. Instead, it centers on the way women are conditioned to put our feelings last.
What Kosal Path calls the “Third Indochina War” resulted from Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia in December 1978 and China’s subsequent invasion of Vietnam in February 1979. For Vietnam, it was a “protracted two-front war”, that drained the country’s economic resources and imperiled the ruling Communist Party. Path contends that throughout the war, the decision-making of the Vietnamese political leadership was shaped more by domestic economic factors and a realist view of national security interests than ideological abstractions. The war and its aftermath, he believes, also set the stage for Vietnam’s economic and national security reform policies called Doi Moi (renovation), and Vietnam’s improved relations with Western powers.
un\\martyred: [self-]vanishing presences in Vietnamese poetry by Nhã Thuyên, a Hanoi-based poet and critic, is a collection of essays that offers a cartography of the writing communities that have lived (and died) along the margins of Vietnam’s literary landscape since the Renovation period of the late 1980’s.
Brian Eyler isn’t a fan of dams, perhaps any of them, but at least not those that are, or may be, on the Mekong.