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CHRONICLES OF A VILLAGE by Nguyễn Thanh Hiên
Translated by Quyên Nguyễn-Hoàng
Well, this is one of the most challenging books I’ve read in a while. Fragmented dreamscapes, each a self-contained prose poem, weaving fable, history, memory and ethereal imagery, roughly blur together to make a portrait of a fictional Vietnamese village. It is, mostly, a thing of considerable beauty, but one that is difficult to wade though, so caught up as it is in the melody of its creation without care for the kind of things that generally ground a narrative. Indeed, reading it reminded me of looking at a surrealist painting that I fear I’ll never understand, no matter how much I might admire it.
Which isn’t to say that the episodes recounted by the unnamed narrator aren’t delightful (or horrific) taken on their own. A quirky assortment of characters rise only to make a small mark before disappearing into the ether, a fractured memory of time and place. So, too, the trees, the wildlife, the crops and buildings. Violence. The village comes alive with them all, yet remains impenetrable; a powerful metaphor for the author’s childhood, and his relationship with the village into which he was born. Haunted and haunting.
Chronicles of a Village by Nguyễn Thanh Hiên (Tr. Quyên Nguyễn-Hoàng)