As a magazine that covers literatures from the five Mekong countries — Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar — our mission is to make the crucial literatures of this overlooked region available to a wider audience. And that’s what Mekong Translation is all about.
Mekong Translation is an audacious venture with a simple mission: to translate and publish great works of literature — short stories, novels and poetry — from the Mekong region into English. But we need your help.
Your support will ensure that Tran Dan’s masterpiece Nhung nga tu va nhung cot den (Crossroads and Lampposts) and Nguyen Binh Phuong’s award-winning Nhung dua tre chet gia (The Young Die Old) will get translated and published in English.
Nhung nga tu van nhung cot den
(Crossroads and Lampposts)
In 1966, Tran Dan gave the sole handwritten copy of his novel, Nhung nga tu van nhung cot den (Crossroads and Lampposts), to the Hanoi Police Department. It was a condition that he had agreed on when they granted him permission to talk to imprisoned former soldiers of the French colonial regime. Twenty-two years later, in 1988, the authorities returned his manuscript. It took another two decades before this classic war novel saw the light of day.
Born in Nam Dinh, Tran Dan was barely twenty years old when he joined the Viet Minh in 1946. Eight years later, he returned to Hanoi following the battle of Dien Bien Phu and the departure of the French forces from northern Vietnam. Disillusioned with the Communist Party, he joined the Nhan Van-Giai Pham group, a cultural-political movement of young writers, artists and intellectuals pushing for freedom of expression in the new society. In 1956 he was jailed for months in the infamous Hanoi Hilton, where he tried to commit suicide. From the late 1950s until 1988, he was banned from having his works published, although he continued to write novels and poems.
Ten years after his death in 1997, Tran Dan received the State Prize for his contribution to literature. In February 2008, a collection of his poems, considered to be the most complete of his works, was published in Vietnam, but shortly after publication the Ministry of Culture and Information fined the publisher for "violating administrative publishing policy" and withdrew it from distribution.
Tran Dan’s novel Nhung nga tu van nhung cot den (Crossroads and Lampposts) was published in Vietnam in 2011, receiving the Hanoi Literature Association prize that year. You can read an extract from this remarkable book here
Nhung dua tre chet gia
(The Young Die Old)
Nhung dua tre chet gia by Nguyen Binh Phuong was published in 1994 and reprinted in 2013. It is a novel about time – both temporal and eternal, a Márquezian meditation on the contradictions of life. This outstanding and idiosyncratic book confirms Nguyen Binh Phuong’s reputation as Vietnam’s master of magical realism.
The critic Phung Gia The said, “Nguyen Binh Phuong’s Nhung dua tre chet gia fills the reader’s heart with unfathomable melancholy. This is arguably the first novel in Vietnam since 1986 (doi moi) to adopt magical realism not only as a way of expression, or as a fictional device, but also as an attitude.”
Here’s a taste of what you can expect: "Quite a long time ago, the folk of Phan village noticed the return of Truong, a man of no parents, no relatives, with a woman from Trai Cau. She never spoke, nor went anywhere outside their house. All day long, Truong went up to the hills, with his knife and hoe, to cut down scrubby bushes, with great restlessness, not bothering to stop for a second to have lunch. At night, through the smashed windows of their ramshackle house, the shadows of the couple could be seen going to and fro. Rumours spread among the villagers about the background of the woman. Some said she was from a minority tribe, others were convinced of her noble origins, while Mr Cung, an old man of freckled complexion, always hungry for food and girls, was absolutely certain that the woman was the great-grand-niece of Mr Liem, the Duke of Thai Nguyen, who died during the uprising of 1834.”
Although he is hardly known outside his country, Nguyen Binh Phuong is one of Vietnam’s great writers, up there with Nguyen Huy Thiep, Duong Thu Huong and Bao Ninh.