French-Vietnamese Woman Unveils Wartime Memories in Captivating Graphic Novel

Tran Hai Anh, an Vietnamese-French author, has mesmerized readers with her compelling graphic novel, "Sống" (Live). This captivating masterpiece vividly portrays her mother's harrowing journey during the American War in Vietnam. Through its powerful illustrations and narrative, Anh's work immerses readers in a captivating and emotional tale. Prepare to be captivated as you delve into the pages of "Sống" and witness the profound impact of war on the lives of ordinary individuals.

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The Kim Dong Publishing House, in collaboration with the French Institute in Vietnam, organized an event on March 12 in Hanoi to introduce a graphic novel called “Song” by Vietnamese-French author Tran Hai Anh and French illustrator Pauline Guitton, as reported by VNS.

In “Song,” a mother recounts her teenage years spent in hiding during the Vietnam-US war. From 1969 to 1975, the mother, who is now a director, spent seven years with her scriptwriter father in the forests with Vietnamese revolutionary soldiers. Her father introduced her to the national resistance movement and to film.

This story of a Vietnamese woman in a lesser-known period of history becomes a portrait of the complex relationship that Hai Anh has with her mother and her roots.

The cover of the graphic novel ‘Song’. Photo courtesy of Ankama Publishing

“Song” is a word that came to mind when my mother told me about her adventures during her teenage years,” Hai Anh said at the book launching ceremony at Kim Dong Publishing House.

“I decided to summarize each memory with a Vietnamese verb that helped me remember the stories. Thus, when French readers read a family narrative interwoven with vocabulary from the Vietnamese language, they are likely to discover many other beautiful Vietnamese words,” Hai Anh said.

Hai Anh, born and raised in France to a Vietnamese family, is a young filmmaker. She spent more time with her father, Vietnamese filmmaker Viet Linh, who is behind the internationally acclaimed Vietnamese movies “Mobile Circus Troupe,” “Apartment Building,” and “Me Thao, glorious time.”

Viet Linh currently runs the Hong Hac Stage in Ho Chi Minh City.

Viet Linh said she was surprised when her daughter did not let her read the manuscript before sending it for publication. Therefore, when she finally held the book in her hands, she read it carefully.

“My daughter and I often share small stories every day, from memories of the past to the present. In 2016, she said she wanted to write a family story, which surprised me. After reading it, I learned 3 important lessons:

Firstly, you should be friends with your child. Secondly, children remember everything we tell them, which is both adorable and dangerous. Thirdly, we should live without anger and ignorance. Just imagine that you are about to part with someone familiar, immerse yourself in that feeling to live more tolerantly,” director Viet Linh said.

Hai Anh holds a Master’s degree in economics, culture, and cinema. In 2023, she was honored by Forbes magazine as one of the “Outstanding Young Faces Under 30 Years Old in Asia.”

Both Hai Anh and Pauline immediately envisioned “Song” as a graphic novel, despite their backgrounds in the film industry. Their mutual love for reading comic books led them to this decision. In this story, the concept of time and chronology becomes hazy within the daily life of the jungle, which influenced their choice of a thematic narrative instead of a strictly chronological one. This approach suits the form of a graphic novel well. Additionally, Hai Anh and Pauline believed that illustrations would convey a greater sense of tenderness and poetry, given the weightiness of the story.

French Ambassador Olivier Brochet expressed his joy during the book launching ceremony, as the book was now published in Vietnamese.

“This is a story of intergenerational communication between a mother and daughter,” the diplomat remarked. “It contributes to recreating the nation’s history from a rarely mentioned perspective and expresses a young person’s desire to explore their roots.”

Writer Do Bich Thuy expressed her admiration for Hai Anh’s “graphic novel with a cinematic quality.”

“I have read this book three times. The author has managed to convey a significant amount of information and emotions using restrained words. As a writer of long-form novels, I have learned a lot. It turns out, sometimes less is more,” shared writer Do Bich Thuy.

Tran Hai Anh (left) and Pauline Guitton, co-authors of ‘Song’. Photo courtesy of Tran Hai Anh/Olivier Clertant

Hai Anh co-wrote “Song” with her friend Pauline Guitton, who obtained a Master’s degree in Character Animation and Animated Filmmaking in 2021. Pauline is currently working as a storyboard artist, animator, and illustrator.

“Song” is their debut graphic novel. It was initially released in France in early 2023, with an initial print run of about 8,000 copies. The book received support from the Publishing Support Fund for excellent works in French – La Scam.

Earlier this year, “Song” won the Prix du Jury oecuménique de la BD 2024 (The Prize of the Ecumenical Jury) in France.

Hannah Nguyen