Paradise of the Blind, by Vietnamese novelist Duong Thu Huong, was first published in Vietnam in 1988 and translated into English in 1993. It was the first novel from Vietnam ever published in the United States and gave American readers authentic insight into the poverty and political corruption that characterized Vietnam under the communist government from the 1950s to the 1980s. Although to most Americans the name Vietnam conjures up images of the Vietnam War, the novel does not concern itself with what the Vietnamese call the American War. It begins in Russia in the 1980s, as Hang, a young Vietnamese woman, travels to Moscow to visit her uncle. As she travels, she recalls incidents from her childhood and adolescence in Hanoi and also tells of life in her mother's village during the communists' disastrous land reform program that took place in the mid-1950s. The novel, which was banned in Vietnam, is essentially the story of three women from two generations whose family is torn apart by a brother who insists on placing communist ideology above family loyalty. The exotic setting and descriptions of the lives of ordinary Vietnamese people in rural and urban areas, combined with the story of young Hang's struggle to forge her own path in life, make for a compelling story. Author Biography
Duong Thu Huong was born in 1947, in Thai Binh, Vietnam, the daughter of Duong Dinh Chau, a North
Vietnamese military officer who fought in the communist guerilla army against the French in the 1950s. Duong Thu Huong's mother was Ngo Thuy Cham, a primary schoolteacher. Duong grew up in poverty and as a child often went hungry. She attended an arts college in Hanoi, studying music, dance, and painting. At this time she had no particular interest in literature and no desire to be a writer. In 1968, during the Vietnam War (1959–75), Duong volunteered to lead a Communist Youth Brigade, an arts troupe that sang and put on the-atrical performances for the North Vietnamese troops. She served in this capacity for the next seven years, until the end of the war in 1975, when she traveled south to Saigon. While she was in Saigon she read some of the world's great novelists, including Honoré de Balzac, Gustave Flaubert, and Leo Tolstoy. Returning to Hanoi, Duong became a screenwriter at a film studio but soon became disillusioned with life in the communist state. She started to write political pamphlets and protested against censorship, for which she was fired from her job. In 1979, however, Duong was one of the first women to volunteer for battle when China invaded Vietnam. But her disillusionment with government corruption and repression increased in the 1980s, and she began to express her feelings and frustrations first by writing short stories and then through the medium of the novel. Her first novel was Beyond Illusions (1987). It sold 60,000 copies and made her a well-known literary figure in Vietnam. Paradise of the Blind followed in 1988 (English translation, 1993), which was also a big seller in Vietnam. The novel was shortlisted for the Prix Fémina Étranger, 1992, and translations of it made Duong an internationally famous writer. However, the novel aroused the disapproval of the Vietnamese authorities, and Duong was expelled from the Communist Party in 1989. In the same year, her third novel, Fragments of Lost Life, appeared, which, like the first two, chronicled the disillusionment of ordinary Vietnamese with their political system. In April 1991, Duong was arrested and imprisoned without trial for seven months for allegedly trying to smuggle secret documents out of the country. The document was in fact a manuscript of one of her own novels. A campaign by Amnesty International and others helped gain her release in November, 1991. In 1994, Duong was allowed to travel to France, where she was awarded the Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. She could have sought political asylum in France, but chose instead to...
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