Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Mekong River Literature Prize

Offhand, I can't think of any postwar Vietnamese novels or poetry I've read, which is an admission I'm ashamed to make. I've read a fair amount of nonfiction about Vietnam, and only recently saw a brutally honest film about the ongoing effects of the U.S. war against that country--specifically how Agent Orange continues to devastate the populace, with great numbers of each new generation still, to this day, being born with horrific disabilities as a result of the Agent Orange poisoning that saturates the land, water, air. I know there's a great tradition of Vietnamese poetry and fiction; what I don't know is whether much of it has been translated into English and published in this country. Other, that is, than counter-revolutionary lit, of which there is always a surfeit.

Last week the Vietnamese Writers' Association awarded the 2008 Mekong River Literature Prize to four writers. They are novelists Nguyen Tri Huan for Dong Song Cua Xo Net (The River of Xo Net); Trinh Thanh Phong for Canh Dong Chum (The Plain of Jars); and poets Nguyen Anh Ngoc and Pham Sy Sau for five poetry collections between them. I'm looking into whether any of these works is yet available in English. I'm not too hopeful.

The Book of Salt, by the Vietnamese-American writer Monique Truong, which came out a few years ago, is one of my favorite novels. Perhaps I'll write about it in more detail at some point. It is exquisite and deserves more than cursory mention, but it is an English-language novel originally published in the U.S. and so quite different than the works honored this month in Vietnam.