Sunday, December 20, 2009

Review: Paradise of the Blind by Duong Thu Huong

genre: fiction/world literature
book 10 of 10 for the Orbis Terrarum Challenge 2009

Raised in the slums of postwar Vietnam, Hang has lived a simple and hard life with her mother, who runs a tiny stall at a street market. While they find comfort in each other while Hang is young, the past slowly encroaches on them and Hang ends up in the center of a fierce feud between her mother and the sister of her father. Jealousy, family strife and her mother's strange way of satisfying her own need to be needed create havoc for Hang.

When I was trying to tell my husband about this novel, I was struck by the despair, the constant struggle of the Vietnamese peasants, both in the slums and in tiny remote villages. Events between the Communists and the people of Huang's mother's village would change all their lives forever - and everyone is searching for someone to blame. Huong's writing is so haunting, so precise, and it's very clear that she is writing from the perspective of one who has suffered at the hands of the communist party in Vietnam. I can see why this book was banned there - I would imagine that her portrayal of local Communist leaders is not the sort that would bring a government much pleasure.

I enjoyed this book for the flavors and smells - the rich picture it painted of a culture I knew virtually nothing about. It's politically charged, to be sure, and old and new ways often struggled to coexist. The narrative style made it a slow read for me, though, it jumped back and forth in time a lot. I think it could have been put together in a way that was easier for the reader, but I wonder if part of that is just a cultural preference. Read this book for a true sense of life in a Vietnam of not-so-long-ago, and brace yourself for a bitter but beautiful road.

1 comment:

bermudaonion said...

Wow! That sounds like a powerful book. I'm fascinated that it was banned in Vietnam. Thanks for your review.

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