Good old bad days

Michael L. Gray

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“Too few seats, too many asses”

Thuong Nho Thoi Bao Cap (Memories of the Subsidised Era)
Nguyen Thanh Phong and Nguyen Khanh Duong
Nha Nam Books and Writers’ Association Publishing House: 2018
Two weeks before this year’s Lunar New Year in Hanoi, a book of cartoons about daily life during the wartime years of the 1970s and 1980s sold out within days of its launch. Memories of air raids, conscription and ration tickets hardly seem like subjects that would put a sentimental smile on people’s faces. But in Hanoi today, nostalgia for the subsidised era of “high communism” has crept into the popular imagination.

The hipster socialist-realism decor of Cong Cafe heralded the beginnings of a rethink about the drab khaki palette of Vietnam’s martial past. The mavens of Hanoi’s digital generation are at least branching out from their fixation with the latest phones and brand-name fashions to learn more about the modest conditions under which their parents and grandparents came of age.

Even so, the sell-out success of Memories of the Subsidised Era surprised everyone, including the authors. After an initial print run of 5,000 copies was snapped up, a second printing of another 5,000 copies is set to sell out as well.

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