Writer Chu Lai: War and Literature

The war in Vietnam has been over for nearly 40 years and many soldiers have returned home with unforgettable memories. One of them is Chu Lai, a prolific author who has not only won the people’s respect for his famous stories about war and the post-war era, but also for his dramatic stage and movie work.

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Veteran soldier-writer Chu Lai is the son of famous screenwriter Hoc Phi. During the war, Chu Lai was an actor in the Political General’s Theatre Troupe. He then became a student of the first course of the Army Medical University and a member of a special task force operating in the suburbs of Sai Gon.
After 1975, he attended a writing camp of the Political General and then studied at the Nguyen Du School of Writing’s first course. He has since written many time honoured books.

Every soldier who returned from the battlefield is the most real historical witness of the glorious struggle against the invaders for national independence. Each has their own way to tell subsequent generations about the war, including Chu Lai. As he says so himself, the only difference between him and his comrades is that he is more sensitive and glib. Therefore, he has published a series of famous war stories, entitled “Sun on the Plains” (1978), “Ungrateful Circle” (1987), “Living off the Past” (1991), “Street” (1992) and “Three Times and One Time” (1999). All are vivid testimonials about the reality of the war in Vietnam that is full of woe, majesty and humanism.


Writer Chu Lai

Chu Lai has a strong character.
His war writings are always topical, consisting of stories about twisted fates. For this reason, many people said that his writing is rough, thorny and he creates characters like himself. To more understand his writing style, it is better to learn more about the writer’s life.

There are few writers who have such an impressive biography. He spent ten years working as a member of a special task force in Sai Gon. During that time, he always walked a thin line between life and death which gave him a strong instinct for survival. Therefore, when returning to civilian life, that survival instinct has followed him and given him the ability to create typical characters in his writing.

After nearly 40 years of writing, Chu Lai has written many famous books on the theme of war.

This bag is one of the souvenirs that has been with him since the war.

In his books, Chu Lai does not try to turn the image of soldiering into “superhuman triumphs” or “great moments”. He describes soldiers in their simple daily life with human feelings. The soldiers in his stories not only know how to fight for their ideals and struggle to regain their freedom from their enemies, but they also have inner feelings and calculations for their interests. However, they finally overcome everything to make a contribution to the glorious victory of the nation.
The author once said: “Probably, the best thing I can do as a writer is to tell about the inner feelings and more importantly still honour the image of the soldiers. Life can drive the soldiers into a corner or mistreat them, but they still do their utmost to live worthy of soldiers.


Besides the theme of war, Chu Lai is very successful in writing about society in the post-war era.

Writer Chu Lai helps young people understand the struggle for national liberation.
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Military Colonel and writer Chu Lai, whose birth name is Chu Van Lai, was born on February 5, 1946 in Hung Dao commune, Tien Lu District, Hung Yen Province. He is now living in Hanoi. He is a member of the Vietnam Writers’ Association, the Vietnam Stage Artists’ Association and the Vietnam National Cinema Association.
– In 1993, he was awarded a prize from the Vietnam Writers’ Association for his novel “Living off the Past”.
– In 1993, he won a prize from the Hanoi Publishing House for the novel “Street”.
– In 1994, he won a literary prize from the Ministry of Defence.
– In 2007, he won a state prize for literature and art.

One of the other characteristics of the writer that readers find easy to recognize in each of his stories is that his writing always shows the innermost sadness and happiness of characters. For Chu Lai, in both fields of art and writing, everything may be interesting or boring, good or bad but that depends on the perception and judgement of the readers. However, the writing must not be insipid because the insipidness of writing is the most boring thing that readers can imagine.
It is due to the harshness, roughness and non- insipidity that has made his writing win the hearts of readers who can see the distinctive features in his characters.
Chu Lai has spent nearly 40 years writing, and now boasts more than ten enduring novels and many other short stories, film scripts and plays. More importantly, his stories have left an indelible imprint on contemporary war themed Vietnamese literature and when mentioning this theme, people often think of Chu Lai.

Story: Thao Vy – Photos: An Thanh Dat