Tag Archives: Viet Thanh Nguyen

Spotlit at last: Asian American writing’s new generation

After years on the peripheries of US fiction and poetry, Asian American authors have stepped into the spotlight during 2017. Books by writers of east and south-east Asian heritage are one of the hottest trends this year. Led by Viet Thanh Nguyen, Jenny Zhang and the poet Ocean Vuong, it marks the emergence into the centre of the US literary world of a previously marginalised group.

Transcultural writers, born to immigrant parents in the US or immigrants themselves as children, they are channelling their experiences into writing that, with perfect historical timing, challenges readers to resist attacks on immigrants’ rights and to see refugees as individuals with unique stories.

The experiences of displaced people are central to the work of this new generation of Asian Americans, and their books cross genres and forms. Vuong, who recently won the Forward prize for best first collection, arrived in the US as a refugee from Vietnam in 1990. His poems in Night Sky With Exit Wounds mix migration with myth and eroticism. Early in the collection, the narrator of Telemachus pulls his father from the sea, dragging him “through white sand, his knuckles carving a trail / the waves rush in to erase”. Such images stick in the reader’s mind and, though it is never said explicitly, feel as if they are etched in the memory of the young gay Asian man navigating the 21st-century US in subsequent poems.

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8 best books on South-east Asia

South-east Asia has undeniably had its fair share of war and torment through the centuries, from colonisation in Malaysia to communist rule in Cambodia and civil war in Vietnam.

But in the 21st century, the countries are recovering from their pasts and are instead known by nicknames such as Cambodia’s The Land of Smiles and the Philippines’ moniker, The Pearl of the Orient Seas.

There are beautiful beaches, incredible mountains and welcoming people. You have super-modern cities and ancient temples, which combined form the fascinating area we call South-east Asia.

And if you can’t get there to see it for yourself, read about it. We selected eight books covering the region. This list includes a mix of new releases and some older titles that have become classics of their genre.

1. First They Killed my Father by Loung Ung: £7.99, Mainstream Publishing

Loung Ung’s story caught the attention of Angelina Jolie, who is currently directing a film for Netflix of her harrowing early life. Ung was forced to leave the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh to become a child soldier at just five years old when Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge army captured the city. This non-fiction book graphically retells the story of a family – and nation – torn apart. She vividly describes the sight and smell of rotting corpses and being forced to eat whatever scraps they could get their hands on, and the terror and loss suffered by so many. It’s a story of survival that will grip you and not let go, even after you’ve turned the final page.

2. Smaller and Smaller Circles by FH Batacan: £7.99, Soho Press

First published in 2002 and released as a film last year, this engrossing, fast-paced tale is considered by many as the first Filipino crime novel. It’s set in Payatas, a vast 50-acre dump north-east of the capital Manila where communities scavenge to survive, and there’s little police protection. When disembowelled bodies of young boys begin to appear among the rubbish, two Catholic priests take up the cause to attempt to bring justice to this corrupt and poor neighbourhood. The cleverly written book won the Philippine National Book Award when it was first published.

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How do you define ‘Home’?

Our roundtable with authors from “Go Home!,” an Asian diasporic anthology of fiction, essays, and poetry grappling with the true meaning of “home.”

“Is home a real place? Is it a memory?” asks Rowan Hisayo Buchanan, editor of the new anthology “Go Home!” (out from Feminist Press, in collaboration with the Asian American Writers’ Workshop). “Who gets to decide when you’re at home? What does it mean when you lose a home? How do you respond when someone tells you to go home? What if you don’t know where that is?”

In “Go Home!” — a collection that feels particularly timely in the midst of attacks on immigrant families and communities — Asian diasporic writers are both thoughtful and generous in their reflections about who they are, where they have been, and where they belong. Their stories will provide illumination and hope to readers grappling with their own questions about family, identity, and belonging. Shondaland reached out to Rowan Hisayo Buchanan (editor of “Go Home!” and author of the novel “Harmless Like You”), Viet Thanh Nguyen (author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Sympathizer,” who wrote the foreword to “Go Home!”), and contributors Alexander Chee (author of the national bestseller “The Queen of the Night” and “How to Write an Autobiographical Novel”), Karissa Chen (editor-in-chief of Hyphen and author of the chapbook “Of Birds and Lovers”), T Kira Madden (editor-in-chief of No Tokens and author of the forthcoming “Long Live the Tribe of the Fatherless Girls”), and Esmé Weijun Wang (author of “The Border of Paradise” and the forthcoming “The Collected Schizophrenias”) to discuss this powerful and timely new anthology.

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The secret to Viet Thanh Nguyen’s overnight success

The novelist seemed to go from unknown to MacArthur genius in two years. In truth, it took decades.

This month, the novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen was awarded one of the most prestigious honors a writer can receive: the MacArthur “genius” grant, given to artists, thinkers, and public intellectuals whose ideas have culture-altering potential. This, in itself, should surprise no one. Nguyen writes with arresting moral and intellectual force, often about people scarred and uprooted by conflict. As the MacArthur Foundation put it in its citation, Nguyen’s demonstrated a unique gift for exploring how depictions of the Vietnam War “often fail to capture the full humanity and inhumanity, the sacrifices and savagery, of participants on opposing sides.”

But the MacArthur is just the latest in an astonishing run of literary successes, one that makes it easy to forget a simple fact: A mere 18 months ago, Nguyen was still unknown as a fiction writer. His career began quickly, and seemingly out of nowhere, in April 2015 — when a rave on the cover of The New York Times Book Review made his debut novel, The Sympathizer, one of the year’s most-discussed books. Shortly after that, The Sympathizer won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in fiction, bringing Nguyen international fame. Since then, he’s stayed busy, publishing two celebrated books in short succession: a work of nonfiction cultural criticism, Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War, and a short story collection, The Refugees.

But Nguyen is no overnight sensation — far from it. In this interview, he opens up about a period of his life that’s been mostly overlooked: the two decades he spent trying, and mostly failing, to write fiction, working in secret while he juggled a host of other responsibilities. We discussed the 20 years of work that preceded his debut, the challenges he faced along the way, and — when it seemed his literary ambitions would never quite materialize — the strategies he used to keep going.

Viet Thanh Nguyen and I first spoke in 2015, discussing how he stumbled on The Sympathizer’s first sentence, an opening that finally allowed him to complete the rest of the book. That conversation appears in Light the Dark: Writers on Creativity, Inspiration, and the Artistic Process, published this fall by Penguin Books. He teaches at the University of Southern California, and spoke to me by phone.

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2017: The year Asian-American writers broke into mainstream of US literary publishing

Led by Viet Thanh Nguyen, Jenny Zhang and the poet Ocean Vuong, this year has seen widespread praise for a variety of authors for bringing their stories about the immigrant experience to English reader.

After years on the peripheries of US fiction and poetry, Asian-American authors have stepped into the spotlight during 2017. Books by writers of East and Southeast Asian heritage led by Viet Thanh Nguyen, Jenny Zhang and the poet Ocean Vuong are among the hottest trends this year.

It marks the emergence into the centre of the US literary world of a previously marginalised group.

Transcultural writers, born to immigrant parents in the US or immigrants themselves as children, are channelling their experiences into writing that, with perfect historical timing, challenges readers to resist attacks on immigrants’ rights and to see refugees as individuals with unique stories.

The experiences of displaced people are central to the work of this new generation of Asian-Americans, and their books cross genres and forms.

Vuong, who recently won the Forward prize for best first collection, arrived in the US as a refugee from Vietnam in 1990. His poems in Night Sky With Exit Wounds mix migration with myth and eroticism. His images stick in the reader’s mind and, though it is never said explicitly, feel as if they are etched in the memory of the young gay Asian man navigating the 21st-century US in subsequent poems.

The stories in Nguyen’s The Refugees are set in Vietnam and among refugee communities in California. The author disarms the reader, consistently complicating our sympathies. What came before and after the characters’ journeys across the Pacific pervade the collection. His book is dedicated to “all refugees, everywhere”.

The privileged twenty-somethings in Tony Tulathimutte’s satirical novel, Private Citizens , inhabit a different San Francisco tech scene in the 2000s – but like Nguyen’s characters, they’re alive to the nuances of Asian-American experience. Tulathimutte’s Thai-American protagonist, Will, is accused of being paranoid about racism, but he is clearly on to something as he witnesses the lives of Asians overlooked because, he says, “they’re outside the black-white binary”.

There is a thrilling and almost wild energy about Jenny Zhang’s long sentences in the connected stories of Sour Heart. The brutality of communist China is vividly remembered and the hardships of immigrant life graphically enumerated by young narrators, among them a girl who says: “Going to school in Little Neck was the only thing – short of spending eighty grand on a down payment for a new house, short of having hundreds of thousands of dollars for private tuition – that stood any chance of saving me from a life of misery, poverty and pain.”

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Clemson Literary Festival to celebrate 10 years with another Pulitzer-winner

By Ken Scar

For the sixth consecutive year, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author will visit Clemson to participate in the Clemson Literary Festival.

This year, 2016 Pulitzer Prize-winner Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of “The Sympathizer” and “Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War,” will headline the 10th annual Literary Festival March 29-April 1.

Nguyen has also won the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, the Edgar Award for Best First Novel from the Mystery Writers of America, the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction from the American Library Association, the First Novel Prize from the Center for Fiction, a Gold Medal in First Fiction from the California Book Awards and the Asian/Pacific American Literature Award from the Asian/Pacific American Librarian Association. He is the Aerol Arnold Chair of English and professor of American studies and ethnicity at the University of Southern California.

Nationally recognized authors of fiction and poetry Camille Rankine, Brando Skyhorse, Paul Guest, Wendy Xu and Shobha Rao also will read their works and serve on panels and in roundtable discussions during the festival. Read more

Source: Newsstand.clemson.edu

Book review: Three Daughters of Eve looks at the challenges facing Muslims

By Lucy Scholes

This week I’ve read two new fictional works, both of which speak directly to the world today: Vietnamese-American author Viet Thanh Nguyen’s short-story collection, The Refugees; and Turkish writer Elif Shafak’s new novel, Three Daughters of Eve.

The Refugees, with its moving depiction of the immigrant experience in the United States, should be compulsory reading for anyone in favour of US president Donald Trump’s attempts at a refugee ban; while Three Daughters of Eve, in its efforts to speak to the broader ideological concerns that underlie this pernicious anti-Muslim hate-filled rhetoric, is a text to linger over. It’s a novel of ideas – sometimes to the detriment of its story – that advocates replacing dogma with doubt.

Opening in modern-day Istanbul – “a bloated goldfish, unaware of having gobbled more than it could digest, still searching around for more to eat” – Peri, a wealthy housewife and mother, is on her way to a dinner party at a seaside mansion. An altercation with a mugger leaves her out of sorts. In the course of their struggle a Polaroid snapshot, a “relic from a time long ago”, is shaken free from her handbag: a professor and three young female students outside the Bodleian Library in Oxford. Two narratives thus unspool: in the present, the performance of the dinner party – the small talk, the silent hovering servants, the polite but ultimately empty delight of fine food and wine, itself a delicious portrait of the contradictions and intolerances of the city’s bourgeoisie – fractiously rubbing up against Peri’s recollections of a buried episode in her past. Read more
Source: The National

Book review: Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Refugees tells eight tales of Vietnamese migrants

By Malcolm Forbes

There is a section in Ways of Escape where Graham Greene casts back to the early 1950s and discusses his love affair with Indochina in general and Vietnam in particular. He singles out Saigon’s opium fumeries, gambling houses and elegant girls, and the overall “feeling of exhilaration which a measure of danger brings to the visitor with a return ticket”.

That measure of danger would soon intensify, convulsing the country and displacing many of its people. In The Refugees, Viet Thanh Nguyen’s first collection of short stories and follow-up to his 2016 Pulitzer Prize-winning debut novel The Sympathizer, the focus is not on visitors to Vietnam with return tickets but Vietnamese migrants who have fled war on a one-way trip to a better future in the United States.

In these times of looking inward and shutting out, of breaking down bridges and building walls, Nguyen’s eight stark and incisive tales provide valuable, necessary insight into the pain and upheaval of exchanging a homeland for an adopted other.
Nguyen – who was born in Vietnam and raised in the US – opens the proceedings with one his strongest stories. Black-Eyed Women introduces us to a ghostwriter who looks back on her youth in Vietnam, “a haunted country”, and is then visited by the ghost of her brother, who died decades ago on the fishing boat which carried her to her current safe haven. Read more
Source: The National

The Pulitzer, Comics, and Essays: Asian-American Literary Achievements to Read from 2016

By Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

During this time of year, as people visit family, travel, or have a little time off work, many look forward to finally picking up that book they have been meaning to read. Take a look back at some of the Asian-American books and writers NBC Asian America covered in 2016 for some great ideas. There is sure to be something for everyone.

“Asian America is not a monolith, and that’s why I support Asian-American writers and their books, which reveal the multitudes in our community, in our families, and in ourselves,” Vanessa Hua, author of award-winning short story collection, “Deceit and Other Possibilities,” told NBC News. “Our work is more important than ever at a time when people of color are being denied their humanity — denied their stories.” Read more

Source: NBC News

Viet Thanh Nguyen wins Dayton peace prize for The Sympathizer

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The Vietnamese-American writer Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Pulitzer prize-winning novel The Sympathizer has won the Dayton literary peace prize, a unique award that “celebrates the power of literature to promote peace, social justice and global understanding”.

Nguyen’s novel, winner of the Pulitzer this spring, looks at the legacy of the Vietnam war through the story of a double agent. The organisers of the Dayton prize, which is worth $10,000 (£8,000) and was inspired by the Dayton peace accords that ended the war in Bosnia in 1995, called it a “profound, startling, and beautifully crafted debut … both gripping spy yarn and astute exploration of extreme politics”. Read more

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