Fostering Franco-Vietnamese cultural ties through literature

French-speaking audiences have been captivated by contemporary Vietnamese literature translated into French.


A discussion on French-Vietnamese literature between French-Vietnamese writer Nuage Rose and French literary scholar Pham Van Quang took place on December 3 at the Youth Publishing House, HCMC, focusing on Vietnamese literary works in France.

Traces of Vietnamese writers in French literature

The literary discussion between writer Nuage Rose and Associate Professor Dr. Pham Van Quang on December 3 at the Youth Publishing House, HCMC. Photo: Tu Anh

The novel “Three Clouds in the Land of Lotus”, about the American war in Vietnam (1964-1975), marked the beginning of the literary career of Nuage Rose or Bui Hong Van. The book was translated and published in Vietnam in 2017 after being first published in French in 2013.
The novel was published by Société des Ecrivains in Paris, won the “Most Favored” title of the French Writers Association, and was presented at major book fairs in Paris, Brussels, Geneva, Brittany, Normandy, Mans, and others.
Her book tells the story of a little girl evacuated from Hanoi during the American war of destruction against North Vietnam (1964-1975). In this story, life and death are intertwined, and the little-known theme of the daily life of the war-impoverished people of North Vietnam is set against the backdrop of military and political events. It is also a child’s testimony that resurfaces 40 years later, as poignant and vivid as if it happened yesterday.

Hanoi women and children during the anti-American war(1954-1975). File Photo

Hanoi is in the 60s. The Pink Cloud (Nuage Rose) is the youngest child in her family. Her father is a doctor, and her mother a chemical engineer. Like all the children born at the same time, she lived a childhood punctuated by American bombings and evacuations. Accompanied by her sisters, Pink Cloud leaves her mother to join her father in a hospital in Hai Duong. Then she began a new wandering, itinerant life, as Nuage Rose tells us in her book.

“For the three little Clouds, immersed in the extravagant reality of their homeland, the hospital naturally becomes their home and playground. Instead of keeping her daughters away from the sick, the injured, and the blood, their father prefers to confront them with the reality of their existence. When you are under the crushing advance of war, coupled with the weight of a totalitarian regime, what better way to protect children from trauma than to teach them to accept life as it comes?”.

Nuage Rose shared that she would like to write more about things related to the country and people of Vietnam. “I am fortunate to have attended many book fairs in Europe and met many readers. Some American readers told me that only by reading books written by a Vietnamese author could they understand why so many people opposed the American war at that time,” she said.

Writer Nuage Rose and her books. Photo: Bao Phu Nu

The late writer Linda Le (1963-2022) is also a Vietnamese writer who won the hearts of French literature lovers. Her books were translated into Vietnamese and published in Vietnam, including the popular Lame de fond (Groundswell). Several of her works have also been translated into other languages, including English.

Common themes in her novels include exile, immigrant and diaspora communities, mother-daughter relationships, and the impact of childhood trauma on adult life.

The Los Angeles Times praised her writing acumen: “Linda Le is an extraordinary writer of scintillating French prose…[she] is Vietnamese in the way that Nabokov was Russian, writing in her adopted language with a kind of desolate grace.”

Linda Le won the Prix Fénéon for Les Trois Parques in 1997, the Prix Wepler for Cronos in 2010, and her novel Lame de Fond has been shortlisted for the 2012 Prix Goncourt.

Less impressive in Vietnam

Pham Van Quang is currently Head of the Department of Literature and Culture, Faculty of French, University of Social Sciences and Humanities (National University of Ho Chi Minh City). He holds a Ph.D. in Modern Philology from the University of Toulouse, France, and has conducted numerous studies on Vietnamese-French literature.

 Nuage Rose and her readers in Hanoi. Photo courtesy of the writer 

“The main reason is that Vietnam does not have a system for publishing books in French. Moreover, the language barrier has prevented local readers from accessing this type of literature. The only solution is to translate it back into Vietnamese,” he said.

In addition, Vietnamese seem to pay more attention to listening and watching culture than to reading, he said.

As of 2010, there were about 400 book titles published in French by 180 Vietnamese authors.

Quang affirmed: “This is an area of literature that really needs to be exploited. Because Vietnamese literature written in French is a bridge for Franco-Vietnamese cultural and people-to-people ties,” he said.

“French is one of the most widely used languages in the world. Therefore, Vietnamese literature written in French will better present Vietnamese culture to international readers,” he added.

Meanwhile, writer Nuage Rose said that in France, people set up many “reading stations” to promote reading culture. “People can read books while traveling on public transport. When they finish reading, they can return the book to any ‘reading station’,” she shared. So this can also be an initiative that Vietnam can learn from to promote reading culture among locals, especially young readers.