This anthology begins with Nguyen Huy Thiep's disarmingly simple but riveting tale of Mr. Dieu's monkey hunt in the Dau Da Forest on a warm spring day, starting off with "A month after the new year is the best time to be in the jungle. The vegetation is bursting with fresh buds, and its leaves are deep green and moist." Fifteen stories follow "Salt of the Jungle," organized under the sections "Hanoi," "Rivers," "Ho Chi Minh City," "Dalat," and "Villages," ending with a "Remembrances" series, including Nguyen Ba Trac's "The White Horse," in which Mr. Nguyen, ever running red lights and earning parking violations, can't stop traveling back and forth between past and present, between his current abode in the United States and his memories of the old neighborhood in Ban Co District. "Memory is a horse on an ephemeral path," he writes, "but you can't stop it. It goes where it wants to go. It goes all the way back to Dalat, galloping freely upon green hills in an afternoon in which the hues of sunshine are as light and thin as smoke and clouds." These stories, penned by Vietnam's best writers, are a beautiful introduction to Vietnam. From "The Stranded Fish," Doan Quoc Sy's unassuming elaboration on a century-old folk poem, to "Fired Gold," a complex, Borgesian piece by Nguyen Huy Thiep, these literary pieces evoke the land, culture, people, concerns, and soul of Vietnam like no travel guide could ever hope to do. They are a pleasure to peruse, regardless of your Vietnam travel plans. --Stephanie Gold
From Publishers Weekly
The idea behind this series is simple and elegant: Explore a place like Vietnam (or, as in past volumes, Costa Rica or Prague) not through maps or guidebooks but through the writings of that country's best writers Although there is a section called "Remembrance," the 17 short stories don't dwell exclusively on the recent war but instead include section that focus on topographies (Jungles, Rivers, Villages) or cities (Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City). Although every contribution is strong, certain ones stand out. In "Salt of the Jungle," Nguyen Huy Thiep describes a slightly surreal story of a man hunting a monkey in mesmerizing prose. ("At around this time, your feet sink into carpets of rotting leaves, you inhale pure air, and, sometimes, your body shudders with pleasure, because a drop of water has struck your bare shoulder.") Le Minh Khue's "A Small Tragedy" of a catastrophe befalling a powerful family is a more urban drama, one that gives a sense of the uneasy balance between a mystical past and industrialized future in present-day Vietnam. And "Scent of the Tiger," by Qui The, a tragic romantic tale about a college professor and his tiger-tamer wife, evokes a melancholy that seems uniquely Vietnamese. According to Balaban, "While Vietnamese have been telling stories about themselves for 2000 years... almost all of that literary expression has been through poetry. . . . Thus the Western-style short story and novel are fairly recent acquisitions." It is this poetry stated or implied at the heart of every story that makes this collection worthwhile.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.