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Apr 04, 2024

In The Pages: Vietnamese Women Penning Literary Triumphs

Finding familiarity in the bookstore, a young Vietnamese girl seeks for representation in a world of words and preservation of voice.
In The Pages: Vietnamese Women Penning Literary Triumphs

Source: Adobe Firefly

Dragging my eyes down Barnes and Noble’s bookshelves, an American bookseller, I usually found myself seeking a comfortable voice to set my adventurous reading foot on. Per usual, I would spend a good three hours getting lost in a forest full of different book genres, cover graphics, colors, names, etc.

However, I cannot help but wrap my head around the fact that I was trying to find familiar last names, and a question came up in my mind as a Vietnamese girl: will I ever find Vietnamese female writers on this grant swirl of knowledge?

In the world of literature, we are familiar with the classic Shakespear’s Romeo and Juliet, Charles Dickens and his Oliver Twist, or the uncanny Stephen King’s horror narratives. A step closer to my female identity, for feminine voices, we observed the revolutionary Frankenstein of Mary Shelly, the great Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, or the controversial J.K. Rowling and the childhood-essential Harry Potter series.

Stories are valuable to evaluate history as we, human beings, have always been trying to construct based on the past of our making, whether the story takes place in a small town like the Maycomb town in Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird or the chaotic New York’s Long Island in The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. These great writings are all taken in as a form of entertainment as well as academia. As this literacy world expands on the demand for voices and its role in documenting history, how do Vietnamese female voices contribute to this world?

So, here is my library for you!

Le Minh Khue - Short Fiction

“At first, I felt that the people were barbaric and shallow, but, after more thought, I realized that their apparent barbarism and shallowness are present in our culture in different ways,” The Stars, The Earth, The River by Le Minh Khue | Credit: Báo Tuổi Trẻ

Though the saturation of the war against America memory had already been absorbed through generations, the preservation of the war stories and narratives is much needed, if not necessary, for the post-war bank of perspectives. Le Minh Khue drew out her recollection of the war with words.

Le Minh Khue is a Thanh-Hoa-born Vietnamese writer whose short fiction pieces have been translated into different languages such as The Stars, The Earth, The River, translated by Hoai Tran Bac, or Fragile come un raggio di sole: Racconti dl Vietnam (In Asia), translated by G. Valent, depicting the war from various angles, friendship, family, intimacy.

She used bits of her war experience to discuss grant ideas and skeptical details. Having spent her youth as a war journalist, her perspective is ambitious and anecdotally vivid. Her writing career took off as a young journalist and revolutionary soldier in the 1960s, debunking the brutal reality of the war.

Flourishing through the rough pages of the history book, Le Minh Khue made her way through both Vietnamese and global literature, and she continued to be an editor of the Vietnamese Writer Association until retirement.

She told her war stories to the world.

Nguyen Phan Que Mai - Novel

“Burning books was an incomprehensible act, and most people who didn’t even read would fight for the right to open any book they chose. Those in power fear free minds, and nothing unlocked thinking like literature,” Dust Child by Nguyen Phan Que Mai | Credit: NPR

Do you believe in the immense power of words? Would you believe me if I told you a book can touch your heart and squeeze your tears out without noticing? If not the heart-wrenching portrayal of genuineness, Dust Child by Dr. Nguyen Phan Que Mai has to be the homely description of the Vietnamese countryside.

Growing up with a teacher and farming parents, Dr. Nguyen spent her childhood in the rice fields and selling vegetables at the markets in the Mekong Delta area. After receiving a bachelor’s degree from Monash University in Melbourne, an opportunity she got in 1992 from the government to study abroad, Dr. Nguyen came back to Vietnam and started her equity work career by advocating for sustainable development with the UN agencies, founding a supporting group, Chap Canh Uoc Mo, for cancer-diagnosed children and equal education for disadvantaged children.

Starting her writing career rather later in her thirties, Dr. Nguyen’s nurturing yet homie voice embraces her colorful upbringing. Her narration is beautiful, cinematic, and lyrical as she compassionately captures raw human emotions. From poetry to prose, the multiple-award-winning writer’s view of her own world is immaculate; each story flows smoothly through pages.

She told stories about her upbringing to the world.

Trang Thanh Tran - Horror

“Like the cliche, she’s different from other girls. She’ll change me. She’ll make me brave. She’s dead,” SHE IS HAUNTING by Trang Thanh Tran | Credit: Bloomsbury Publishing

Goosebumps and anxiety, the Stephen King-dominated field of horror is a must-own genre on your shelves, for it debunks the reality of life. Fear underlies the betrayal of nature; when one breaks the system to seek “the others,” horror shows the consequences. Within the uncanny and spiritual world of horror, Trang Thanh Tran’s curious narration navigates through the generational gap in her culture and takes on a nuanced portrayal of second-generation Vietnamese immigrants.

A young writer, Trang Thanh Tran, represents the Vietnamese female voice in horror writing with her one and only debut piece, SHE IS HAUNTING. Being the instant New York Times and Indie bestseller, Tran has a successful start to her writing career. The enriching story is a crossover of Mexican Gothic and coming-of-age narration that explores the classic horror features of a haunted house, ancestral trauma, and parent-children complex relationships, tracking a relatable character of Jade Nguyen that reflects Tran’s experience with the motherland. Tran’s sharp descriptions and uncanny skepticism painfully haunt the readers with the ivy-covered, concrete setting of Vietnam and the fear embedded in the puberty of one’s consciousness.

She told her gothic stories to the world.

Ali Wong - Memoir & Comedy

“And then I threw up from all the anesthesia and my teeth were still chattering, and they were telling me not to vomit so hard, otherwise my stitches would bust open. I said, ‘I don’t know how to vomit softly.’ That’s like telling someone to shit perfume,” Dear Girls: Intimate Tales, Untold Secrets, & Advice for Living Your Best Life by Ali Wong. | Credit: People

Even if one carries half of their identity as Vietnamese, they are Vietnamese. Their unique perspective of the world is the creation of their personalized interactions with the nuanced Vietnamese heritage. And when Ali Wong was listed as a Vietnamese writer, I felt pride sparked from my own instinct when I observed a Vietnamese woman on the front page of a magazine advocating for social justice.

Commonly recognized for her witty humor, Ali Wong appeared on the Emmy Award stage as Outstanding Lead Actress and on the Golden Globe stage as Best Performance by a Female Actor for her role in Netflix’s original series Beef. Leading the comedy field as a Vietnamese-Chinese American actress, she takes on the role of writer through her letter-form memoir, documenting her conversations with her daughters. Her sharp and sincere humor tells the stories of life, conversing unfiltered aspects of the world to empower the ‘live your life to the fullest’ mindset. Simultaneously experiencing a realistic life and reconnecting with her roots, Wong’s wisdom takes you through a surprisingly moving adventure.

She told her funny stories to the world.

Helen Hoang - Romance

“The hero didn’t even have to win. All he had to do to get the girl was fight for her. If he lost, she’d kiss him better,” The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang | Credit: NPR

A romance, in the form of pure love, can rock you to sleep and send sweet dreams with it. The genuineness of words when describing love is, indeed, beyond the reality of romantic relationships that we observe with our bare eyes. There is a hint of Vietnamese identity in every story; for a Vietnamese reader like me, I feel seen as Vietnamese names are used in the American market of romantic readings. Let’s say that I fell in love again when reading Helen Hoang.

Helen Hoang fell in love with books, specifically romance, in eighth grade and carried her passion for this loving genre even beyond academia. Being diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder in 2016, Helen brought this part of her identity into the book, representing and destigmatizing autism through literacy. Her writing covers every hue of romance, including light, cute moments, blushing scenes, and everything in between.

Helen’s words are dynamic yet smooth as they continuously track the development of each character, giving them present voices in the story. She questions the world and never gives a definitive answer to the wandering of the characters, letting readers also ponder from the nuanced perspective and mind-tracking narration.

She told her loving stories to the world.

Leaving the Bookstore: A Conclusion

Dragging my eyes down Barnes and Noble’s bookshelves, an American bookseller, I usually found myself seeking a comfortable voice to set my adventurous reading foot on. I found them: the Vietnamese female authors in a diaspora of genres.

And that is my library for you!