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Fiction in Translation: Chinatown with Thuận and translator Nguyễn An Lý in Bath

Thursday 7th July

  • Venue The Bookshop
  • Doors open 7pm
  • Start time 7.30pm
Image of Fiction in Translation: Chinatown with Thuận and translator Nguyễn An Lý
Born under the bombs that the US let fall on the North of Vietnam, Thuận grew up first in Hanoi, then Saigon, where she studied Vietnamese literature at school and read Hugo, Balzac and Flaubert at home.
Soviet Russia took her in as an 18-year-old and gave her five years of college education, but it was only at la Sorbonne that she discovered Boris Pasternak, Marina Tsvetaeva and Mikhail Bakhtin.
Writing ensnared her the moment she arrived in Paris, in the form of short stories which were all discarded a few years later when she threw herself into the work of a novelist.

She joins us with her translator Nguyễn An Lý for Chinatown, an unfinished love story, humorous and haunting, of diasporic lives in Vietnam and France.

The Métro shudders to a halt: an unattended bag has been found. For the narrator, a Vietnamese woman teaching in the Parisian suburbs, a fantastical interior monologue begins, looking back to her childhood in early ‘80s Hanoi, university studies in Leningrad, and the travails and ironies of life in France as an immigrant and single mother.

But most of all she thinks of Chinese-Vietnamese Thụy, who she married in the aftermath of the Sino-Vietnamese war, much to her parents’ disapproval, and whom she has not seen now for eleven years. The mystery around his disappearance feeds her memories, dreams and speculations, in which the idea of Saigon’s Chinatown looms large. There’s even a novel-in-progress, titled I’m Yellow, whose protagonist’s attempts to escape his circumstances mirror the author-narrator’s own.

Interspersed with extracts from I’m Yellow, the narrator’s book-length monologue is an attempt, at once desperate, ironic, and self-deprecating, to come to terms with the passions that haunts her.

Chinatown is a fever dream, a hallucination, a loop in time and life that Thuân masterfully deploys to capture the disorienting and debilitating effects of migration, racism, and a broken heart in both Vietnam and France. I was completely immersed in this spellbinding novel.” — Viet Thanh Nguyen