Book review: Chon vang

Chốn vắng (English title: No Man’s Land) is a novel from vietnamese writer Dương Thu Hương.

Without hesitating, I put it on my mental bookcase of these unique works that I almost regret reading, because I would like to be able to open them and discover again with fresh eyes as if it were my first time seeing them.

Set in post-war Vietnam, No Man’s Land tells the story of a woman named Miên. Miên lives a happy life with her husband, a rich merchant, and their son. Until one day when her previous husband, for years believed by all to have died at war, comes back and asks her to resume their previous wife-and-husband life.

Chốn vắng (in French: Terre des Oublis)

Should I be asked what is the main theme of this novel, I would not be able to pick one and only one. No Man’s Land is about love, the feeling of duty and gratitude, pressure from society and its unwritten but yet powerful rules. It’s about friendship, post-war life and the struggle against phantoms from the past. It’s a monument, a deep book, much like an endless well from which many voices resonate and echo back.

Why did I love reading No Man’s Land?

  • It doesn’t bear any simplistic judgment or condemnation towards its characters. Turn by turn, it gives us to see the true heart of the characters (sometimes each other’s rivals), their torments and their hopes, without ever definitely labeling them as villains or innocents.

  • It shows a Vietnam that I could have never known with my own foreigner eyes, depicts it with a sense of poetry that makes each sentence become its own novel and each word a different chapter.

  • It’s a complex work, but it’s not hard to read. Its style is fluid and enthralling. Sometimes, it sends us to the remote past, to better let us better understand a new dimension in the personality of a character and understand his or her present state.

No Man’s Land has swept me away. I recommend it to anyone who likes to travel from the comfort of their chair.

Before ending, let me share with you one of the many inspiring passages in this book:

“He was dreaming. He wasn’t doing anything except for dreaming… Is it possible to live without dreaming? But when one dreams, one may not live in peace any longer.”

13th September 2018