Customer Reviews: Paradise of the Blind: A Novel
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on June 12, 2005
It's a challenge to really get into the heart of this book. It is easy for critics to praise it as a book that accurately portrays the effects of communism in Vietnam, however one must look far beyond that. The book comments much more on the evolving modern world clashing with traditional customs, or the struggle of family loyalty, then it is a political commentary on communism.

In fact, much of Huong's novel could easily be placed in any other setting and still be able to offer us the same thematic value. While I will not deny that here lies a book that gives us outsiders a wonderful glimpse into Vietnamese culture, something tells me that this was not the intential intention of Huong. The style of the book, and the portrayal of the narrator's mother and sister are all much to realistic for me to believe that this book is souly a commentary on the changing Vietnamese, and I look to all the readers to ask themselves if they cannot identify with the basic human nature portrayed ever so beautifully in this novel. Though it made be hard for the readers to relate, we can at least acknowledge that there is soul in this piece of literature,.

The story itself is quite a complex one. The book seems to take place in the past, the further past, and the even further past, and lets all of the stories grow and mature until in the end when they weave their way into one.

The book is completely worth reading and the insight gained from it will be well worth every minute you spend on it. However, the book is slightly distant and not quite so easy to connect to. I'll assume this has to do with the cultural differences between myself and the author and the result of the book being translated to English. However, the book is a must read. It will leave you with a hunger and thirst for life and an appreciation for living.
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on August 29, 2006
A short response to any book by Duong Thu Huong is a good deal like a short response to the Bible--it will be lacking. This is especially the case with Huong's 1988 work Paradise of the Blind, the story of a young Hanoi woman, Hang, forced to give up her university studies and work in the Soviet Union in order to support her mother. This is only half the story though. Hang reached adulthood after the heroic period of the twentieth century in Vietnam, namely the wars for independence and reunification, as well as the revolution. These events led to colossally momentous experiences in the lives of Hang's family--her mother and aunt whom she loves and the uncle she hates--so profoundly shaping were the experiences of these times that there consequences for Hang's family have nearly as deep consequences for her own life. Ultimately the only way that Hang is able to escape the chains bind her family members to the past is by abandoning her connection to the it.

Hang's troubles actually began a decade before she was born when Uncle Chinh returned triumphant from the war against the French to introduce land redistribution to his own and her mother's village in the middle 1950's. The approach Chinh took to land reform essentially ensured that he was going to be less than beloved by any person in the village--finding the most depraved and degraded of the village's lumpen proletariat and elevating them to the status of rural working class heroes. The paternal side of Hang's family has their property ruthlessly expropriated and her father is forced into internal exile. Chinh does not just acquiesce to their impoverishment and humiliation, but his own belief in the socialist millennium being just around the corner impels him, quite happily, to fanatically push for it and treat his sister harshly for continuing to even care about dispossessed husband and in laws. Chinh thus violates loyalty to kin in order to serve his own ideological pretensions and a poorly articulated form of class solidarity. At the novel's close when we see him waiting hand and foot on smugglers half of his age in order to better his material circumstances, it is truly pitiful, but is justice through history's cunning--one that was not likely to have been lost on the government authority that decided to withdraw the book from circulation.

Considering the pain he has caused, Chinh is not worthy of pity, but it is hard to argue that his situation is not pitiful. Hang's Aunt Tam is the surviving victim of Chinh's fanaticism, but she is not a character that could easily be described as pitiful, though she is worthy of pity in a way Chinh simply is not capable of being. Kept warm at night by the hate she has for Chinh and the contempt she holds all Communists in, this fanatically hardworking capitalist has grown absurdly rich by Vietnamese standards, without having to employ another person; thus making her a walking and talking reminder that not every rich person is rich by dint of exploiting the labor of the poor. Where Chinh is a fanatic who ultimately gives in to the system's endemic corruption, making a hypocrite out of himself, Tam is perfectly willing to use her money to subvert the system when it is convenient to do so and she makes no bones about where her power and influence come from and where her loyalties lie. Her riches and the influence that she wields are the product of an absolutely implacable sense of indignation at the injustices her own family suffered at the hands of the Communists in general and Chinh in particular.

Once Hang is old enough to form an opinion of her Uncle it is overwhelmingly negative and overtly hostile, though she is not capable of despising her uncle with the intensity that her Aunt--a Herculean task even without trying to grow richer with every passing day purely through hard labor. Que, Hang's mother, would seem to have as much justification to despise Chinh as Tam, because he certainly ruined her marriage through his ideological pretensions and career considerations. Instead she slavishly and thanklessly provides for his and his family's needs to her own and Hang's physical detriments. Que's dedication to Chinh's well being is repellant to Hang for the same reasons that it is repellant to most American readers; is a moral weakling incapable of admitting he performed a massive injustice. What makes it truly disgraceful, in Hang's eyes, is that Que's work is an attempt to maintain a link to a past that did nothing but bring pain to herself, her aunt, and Hang during her childhood where she was deprived of a father. Familial piety is an honorable and comprehensible value to Hang, one which she is filled with enough of to send her abroad to support her mother after she is crippled, and indefinitely put her own ambitions on hold; but it is so distorted and so pathetic in Que, that it invites at best pity and at worst contempt.

The fanaticisms of ideology, wealth and revenge, and continuity with a bucolic past that is a part of the three adults who had the greatest influence Hang could have consumed her had she not decisively broken with that past. Hang's own liberation will come only with that unforgiving war of attrition that finally kills all passions of memory and replaces it with largely dispassionate and impersonal history. The difficulties and Hang's life were almost wholly the cause of her kin living life's passions at extremes that could do nothing but cause her further distress were she to try to honor any of the values that they found to be so important--even gave their lives meaning. All of their lives have tragic elements to them, and it is precisely for that reason that Hang refuses to be imprisoned by their collective pasts. That past has to be down graded in importance if she is to be free to make a future for herself.
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on May 19, 2002
The book Paradise of the Blind describes the hardships of three young Vietnamese women. Paradise of the Blind is a very interesting and truthful book that allows readers to understand what Vietnamese go through daily. Written by Dyong Thu Huong, Paradise of the Blind goes in great depths describing the Vietnamese's idealistic hope and betrayal of Communism.
This book focuses on the life of a young lady, Hang, and her relationship with both her mothers and fathers relatives. Hang is a twenty-year-old exported worker in Russia, who has a series of flashbacks. On her train ride to Moscow, Hang recalls how her uncle Chinh tore her family apart and destroyed the relationship between her and her mother. Her mother Que moved to Hanoi and became a street vendor because of the land reforms. Hang blames her uncle Chinh for her father's departing, her Aunt Tam becoming poor, and her mother becoming a street vendor. She realizes that she can only move on with her life and succeed only if she distances herself from her family and their history. "I can't squander my life tending these faded flowers, the legacy of past crimes," (Huong 57). Her Aunt Tam is convinced and determined that her hard work will benefit Hang someday. Hang is forcefully torn between her mother Que and her Aunt Tam.
Overall, Dyong Thu Huong expresses a great deal of description of both the characters and their thoughts and feelings. One fact that really shocked and surprised me was that Paradise of the Blind was one of the first books written under Vietnamese Communist Regime ever translated into English. This book is well translated and is an easy read. It makes you think and appreciate how lucky you really are. If you truly want to understand the history of Vietnam and what life is like under communism, this is a must read.
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on September 15, 2006
This is a fine novel in many ways, at once probing the fissures and scars of life in modern Vietnam in an uncompromising manner while telling a tragic tale of family conflict and broken dreams. The descriptions of everyday life are rich and detailed in ways that move the story along, and the author has framed the story well by presenting much of it as flashbacks and flashbacks within flashbacks, which enables her to compellingly uncover the complex snarl of events and episodes entangled with Vietnam's troubled history as all of this affects the present.

In terms of pages this is a novel of modest length, but so much is going on. There is a definite political edge to it, a sharp critique of the absurdities, deprivations, and hypocrisies of life under a Communist regime by a former true believer. But that's only the beginning. The polarization of urban and rural life is also a major theme, as is the complicated links and disjunctures between generations. Even geopolitics as it affects individuals comes into play, and all of this in a way that seems perfectly natural in this well-told tale.

Still, the characters, while generally convincing, are sometimes just short of three-dimensional. Hang's Uncle Chinh is always despicable, her Aunt Tam is always strong and vengeful, and so on. Not quite caricatures, but a bit too close nevertheless. And while the role of food is important in this novel in many interesting ways, signifying bounty and comfort but also manipulation and power, still sometimes the grocery list gets a bit long. All of which just means that the novel is excellent but not perfect. The translators have also provided an introduction, a glossary, and a note on the author that helpfully and unobtrusively give the reader the right amount of context to appreciate this fine work.
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on May 19, 2002
Hearing people complain about their lives and how the world treats them so unfairly will really make one think about the reality of what they are saying after they read the novel, Paradise of the Blind. Coming from a Vietnamese background, I was intrigued to read this novel because I saw a slight connection, but after just a few chapters, I realized that people from all ethnic backgrounds could appreciate this novel. Paradise of the Blind deals with the struggle of three women in Vietnam and how they try to overcome their obstacles in their communist world and make a future for themselves and their family.
Hang, the main character of the novel, is summoned in the first chapter to go attend to her sick uncle. The story takes place on the train to Russia where Hang remembers back to her life living in communist Vietnam. She reminisces about her mother, Que, who would do anything to keep her and her daughter healthy and happy. She can still remember playing the streets of Vietnam while her mother was out selling odds and ends to keep them alive. Along the way, we hear details about Hang's father and about his death that Que never wants to tell Hang about. With Hang's father, comes Aunt Tam. She is the rich aunt that won't deny Hang anything. Paradise of the Blind tells about the life of these women and how through land reforms, death, poverty, love, and hate, these women survive and make a life for themselves.

The accounts of these women left me with a sense of knowledge about the restrictive time period that they lived in. Although very profound, this novel can surely be enjoyed by all audiences. The simplicity of the language helps the reader understand the real meaning that this novel is trying to share, and a truth like this one should not be kept in the dark.
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on February 5, 2015
This might be a terrific book. Here's my problem with it: the pages of my copy of the paperback edition have a gray background - like an old photocopier mimicking rice paper and not getting it right. The end result is that there is minimal contrast between the print and the page. Trying to read through the the veil of gray gives me a wretched headache. Unfortunate device, if this was intended. Sloppy printing by HarperCollins if it wasn't.
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on July 16, 1999
If anyone wants to truly understand Vietnam's history and what life under communism is like, they should read this book. Duong Thu Huong reveals a reality I had not known about until I read Paradise of the Blind. This book captures the idealistic hope and devastating betrayal and disillusionment of those who gave their lives and hopes to communism, only to discover it is a lie. I will never be able to look at Vietnam and the war the same way again. The fact that this book is banned in Vietnam only reveals its power. I look forward to reading more of this author's books.
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on May 7, 1999
When the Vietnamese Communist Party slightly gave people freedom of speech in 1987, Duong Thu Huong cleverly borrowed many stories to analyze what had happened to ordinary people of the northern part of Vietnam under the communist regime. She challenges the communists to look at people's miserable lives that they have made and lured people into. Paradise of The Blind depicts some realities of negative aspects of communism. The story circles around the life of a young lady, Hang, in her relationship with her both mother's and father's relatives. All of them, her mother, her aunt, her uncle, her cousins and herself are all intertwined in a twist of the country without a way out. The story gives readers a mixed feeling of pity, sympathy, hatred and love for these Vietnamese people. However, Duong Thu Huong does not tell the whole truth. She does not point out some crucial details of the horrors the Land Reform Movement had created and of how poor people had been through. For example, these communists and even common people would sacrifice their parents and their siblings for their own fame and future during the Land Reform Movement. Moreover, many communists would not give their immediate families' members a way out. Paradise of The Blind was among the first books written under Vietnamese Communist Regime ever translated into English. I think you will enjoy it. If you are among those suffering and struggling by the ideal or "paradise" of the communists, you will share the same feelings of those people. If you don't know what live under the Communist Regime is like, you may have a great insight about it.
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VINE VOICEon June 11, 2012
Duong Thu Huong should be on everybody's best writers' list. She is a brilliant Vietnamese writer who can't even be able to read in her own country. Sadly, her novels and works are forbidden to be read by the people she writes about. If Vietnamese were able to read her books freely in their own country, they would be able to appreciate her genius, her love of country and of humanity as well.

The author writes about Hang who gets a letter about her sick Uncle in Moscow in the then Soviet Union. She takes the long journey by train from Vietnam to Moscow. During her journey, she recounts painful family history, divisions, grudges, and bitterness. Much like Vietnam itself, the author subtly analyzes and writes about her country along with a family's intense battle of the soul.

Huong's Vietnam is brought to life in one family's struggle to survive and thrive in Communist Vietnam. While Huong tries not to be political or biased, her writing is to be appreciated, revered, and celebrated especially because she is still in Hanoi, Vietnam and forbidden to travel abroad. If she won the Nobel Prize in Literature, it is doubtful that she wouldn't be there to accept the honor in Stockholm, Sweden.

Huong would be a worthy recipient since her novels aren't political nor biased but beautifully written like poetry. Huong can make magic with words in her writing. She captivates you with images that awaken you entire senses. Huong is one of then best writers alive about anything. When you read about Huong's Vietnam, you are transformed and transfixed on a world that isn't foreign to you but you become a shadow in the novel's mist like a visitor. You just can't help but loving Huong's writing.

I deducted one star because I felt that her novel ended strangely. I still think it's one of the best novels ever read but I believe that the author left out some mystery regarding Hang's relationship with her uncle once in Moscow.
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on May 30, 2016
I ordered this book because it was one needed for a class. I was surprised though when I like the book as I don't usually waver from my YA romance books so it was nice to read something new. At times though I was confused as to when this was happening as we kept being pulled from the past only to be still in her past just steadily closer.Throughout the book you start to feel for the main character and if you're like me you will wonder (sort of SPOILERS) why her uncle is such a jerk and treats her and her mother like they are inconvenient.
To be honest I didn't actually finish the book but I do plan to(eventually). There was nothing wrong with the book, I only stopped because I completed the class assignments for this book and then had to start a new book.
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