Houston Book Club Book Review - Paradise of the Blind by Duong Thu Huong
* Houston Book Club Book Review - Paradise of the Blind by Duong Thu Huong- August, 2005


© William H Morrow & Co.


  Paradise of the Blind by Duong Thu Huong  

Review by Louis Hemmi - Houston Book Club


By Duong Thu Huong, translated by Phan Huy Duong and Nina McPherson. William H Morrow and Company, 270 pages

Houston Book Club - http://www.HoustonBookClub.com. Not a book club selection.

Women in Vietnam: Their Story Banned in Hanoi

I've read some Vietnamese literature, including Kim Van Kieu, Paradise of the Blind by Duong Thu Huong, and When Heaven and Earth Changed Places by Ley Li Heyslip.

Of these, Paradise of the Blind is one of the best books I've read, of whatever topic. Its appeal is universal because of the beautiful writing style of the author, Duong Thu Huong and the skillful development of her characters. One important piece of evidence in this regard is that you can find it at the BookStop, not in the Asian or Vietnamese sections, but in General Literature and Fiction.


Duong Thu Huong was born in 1947 in Vietnam. At the age of twenty, she volunteered to lead a Communist Youth Brigade sent to the front during the Vietnam War. During China's 1979 attack on Vietnam, Duong Thu Huong also became the first woman combatant present on the front lines to chronicle the conflict. A vocal advocate of human rights and democratic political reform, Duong Thu Huong was expelled from the Vietnamese Communist party in 1989. She was imprisoned without trial for seven months in 1991 for her political beliefs. This is her fourth novel and her fourth to be effectively banned by the Vietnamese government. She lives in Hanoi with her two children.

The Book

Although Paradise of the Blind portrays three Vietnamese women struggling to survive in a society where subservience to men is expected and Communist corruption crushes every dream in the 1980's, it is not just a "woman's" book. I think men like this book also. For the American reader, he can acquaint himself with the ordinary daily lives of Vietnamese, get some background in the mythology, beliefs and customs, and become aware of the central role of food.

This book is a rich and beckoning welcome to Vietnamese culture. You will enjoy the appendix called a "Glossary of Vietnamese Food and Cultural Terms." For the Vietnamese-American reader, you will find perhaps that many memories of the smells and textures of life in Vietnam come rushing back to your mind in a tidal wave.


Through the eyes of Hang, a young woman in her twenties who has grown up amidst the slums and intermittent beauty of Hanoi, we come to know the tragedy of her family as land reform rips apart their village. When her uncle Chinh's political loyalties replace family devotion, Hang is torn between her mother's appalling self-sacrifice and the bitterness of her aunt Tam who can avenge but not forgive. Only by freeing herself from the past will Hang be able to find dignity-and a future.


One thing most Americans probably don't know is that many Vietnamese went to work in the Soviet Union. Some of the saddest days of Hang are spent in Russia, and her uncle is humiliated many times by his comrades.


As Robert Stone noted "Considering that Vietnam so absorbed the energies of an entire generation of Americans, it is remarkable how little even those of us who have been there finally know about the country and the life of its people. In Paradise of the Blind, Duong Thu Huong lays open the Vietnamese experience for the world as only a first-rate writer can. The novel's descriptive style is at once passionate, precise and lyrical."

It is indeed rare that a translation comes across so floridly. I wish I knew Vietnamese so I could read it in its original form, but the beauty is not lost in English !

All opinions are those of the reviewer, and do not necessarily reflect all of the book club members' assessments.

Louis Hemmi - August, 2005 for www.HoustonBookClub.com