Vietnam’s book market

Pham Trang Nhung

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Early morning on Dinh Le Street. Photograph: Lee Jun

It’s Sunday morning in April and Dinh Le Street in Hanoi — a few steps from the historic Hoan Kiem Lake — is filled with bookstores and packed with browsers.

Thuy, a young office-worker, enters one of the tunnel-like spaces, packed with bookcases, in search of a replacement for a mislaid novel. She passes Western, Chinese and Japanese romances and memoirs, before finally reaching Vietnamese fiction, a section mostly filled with canonical names. But she can’t find a copy of Cocktail Cho Tinh Yeu by Tran Thu Trang, published in 2008 but now too old to command room in the limited shelf space of the store.

A book lover’s heaven, Dinh Le Street is not only the best place in the country to find discounted books, but is also a microcosm of the current Vietnamese book market, in which young local writers are underrepresented, while foreign works dominate, especially contemporary Chinese fiction.

In January, Vietnam’s Authority for Publication, Printing, and Distribution (VNPPD) issued an order to cease the publication of popular Chinese romance novels. Besides the ostensible protection of domestic literature, political and cultural reasons explain the decision.

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