Ở Chốn Không Quen

Tuyển tập truyện ngắn do Thời Văn xuất bản năm 1993
Gồm 9 truyện ngắn – Giá bán 10 mỹ kim

Đường Về trang 9 / Hai Chiều Đường Thẳng trang 29 / Điểm Nối trang 49 / Dốc Ngược trang 65 / Chuyện Ba Người Rưỡi trang 91 / Cuối Gió Mùa Xuân trang 115 / Người Đàn Bà Cởi Truồng trang 127 / Thiếu Một Cái Hang trang 147 / Thư Có Người Nhận trang 169

O-Chon-Web-NEW

Ở Chốn Không Quen.

Book reviews by Nguyễn Đình Hòa

O chon khong quen (At Unfamiliar Places) is the fifth published work by the highly productive Vietnamese refugee writer Nguyen Y-Thuan. As the title indicates, this unassuming, gentle, hardworking young writer tries, in nine short stories, to capture the sentimental outlook of displaced Vietnamese of his generation, caught in the struggle in a new land of opportunities and challenges.
Living and working in the rather seedy part of San Jose, within the “Yellow Flower Valley” where refugee-owned restaurants, food markets, bookstores, jewelry shops, and pharmacies have helped resurrect the downtown area, Nguyen describes his surroundings well: the William Street section several blocks south of East Santa Clara Street, the city’s main thoroughfare. The life of newly transplanted people revolves around a couple of Oriental grocery stores, noodle shops, and Vietnamese sandwiches, and the author depicts well the movements of bored and timid occupants of cheap housing traits who rarely venture outside their dwellings, avoiding the harmless pan-handlers, prostitutes, and drunkards who may be seen in front of the movie theater, on the senior citizens’ “way home” (“Duong ve”).
In “Hai chieu duong thing” (Two Opposite Directions) an old man learns how to take care of his grandson and watches the toddler grow up into an Americanized adolescent and gradually drift away from the ancestral culture. In “Diem noi (Junction) Mr. Tri, reunited in the U.S. with his wife after a sixteen-year separation, sees his marital relationship grow cooler by the day. But his most painful experience is his feeling of alienation and his inability to adapt to the new social milieu. Differences in language, daily habits, and hobbies contribute to the collapse of another refugee family in “Doc nguoc” (The Steep Incline”): the deaths of his two sons make the situation so intolerable that Mr. Vu, a refugee from the Highland province of Ban Me Thuot, finally walks away from the new home, despite all its material amenities, because he feels like a misfit in the adoptive country. “Cuoi gio mua xuan” (Wind-Exposed in Springtime”) is a delightful vignette on the optimism of a young couple enjoying the approach of the Lunar New Year in Westminster, California, where crowds of shoppers flock to a major Asian mall to savor succulent snacks, watch passers-by and reminisce about their now faraway native coastal city- of Nha-trang in central Vietnam.
The volume’s best-constructed pieces concern the boat people’s perilous voyage from Vietnam. “Nguoi dan ba coi truong” (The Naked Woman) is about a woman who goes berserk in a Southeast Asian camp and spends hours wandering on the beach without any clothes. Later, in asylum in the U.S., she chances to meet the painter of her nude portrait at a gallery where that very portrait is being shown. In “Thu co nguoi nhan” (The Received Letter), the single most moving piece of the entire collection, one refugee writes to another now settled in another corner of America after several years in “re-education camps” and recounts his escape from Vietnam in a flimsy boat twelve meters long and three-and-a-half meters wide. Some forty-odd fugitives spent three days and four nights on their horrendous passage before reaching international waters, where they were ignored by huge merchant ships, then ran into pirates – Vietnamese pirates – whose ringleader raped a gift and her mother, then threw away what was left of the escapees’ food, fuel, and drinking water. The eleven fishing boats that happened upon them afterward belonged to Thai nationals, whose sadism and savagery were beyond human imagination. After killing five men, they forced groups of five men to perform sex acts for them to watch. But the climax occurred when they attempted to coerce a teen-age boy into copulating with his own mother: when the youth hesitated, they kicked him overboard, whereupon the mother plunged into the waves below to join her son.
The pirates somehow escorted the small boat to the Indonesian island of Matak, but the drama did not end there; five surviving women of the group were raped one by one, this time by the camp guard, a Dutch-Indonesian metisse. Bruises, teeth marks, and scratches on these women’s bodies as a result of the man’s sadism followed them to other stops (Kuku, Galang, and also Singapore) before their resettlement in the U.S. Those same permanent wounds are reminders of the boat people’s ordeal. However, in the narrator’s words, they all have “to live, in order to find themselves, to discover themselves, through whatever they still carry, including both misery and happiness.”
Nguyen Y-Thuan’s prose, both gentle and forceful, has proven unusually successful in “At Unfamiliar Places,” a collection of stories about blood, sweat, and tears shed by unlucky creatures in unlucky times.

Dinh-Hoa Nguyen