Book Summary: Paradise of the Blind – John

paradise-blindA deep and enriched journey of the senses, Paradise of the Blind by Duong Thu Huong is a book long banned in her native country of Vietnam.  The story mostly follows the childhood and young adulthood of a girl, Hang, and her experiences during the communist revolution in Vietnam.  This work by Huong employs vivid and lush imagery of life in and around Hanoi, and focuses on the land reform that occurred in Vietnam from 1953 to 1956.

The novel mostly chronicles the devastation wrought upon families and communities as authoritarian figures descended upon ordinary people, turning their lives upside down.  With homes taken, land confiscated, and degenerates placed in power, the social order completely unravels.  Written in a disjointed manner, the narrative follows Hang’s quest to learn more about her father, and focuses on the theme of the cultural imperative in Vietnamese society requiring women to sacrifice of themselves for family.  The novel builds through various circumstances to a point at which Hang must choose whether to follow this cultural tradition of self-sacrifice or to forge her own path different from that of her family.

While the author had been previously banned in Vietnam, and then unbanned, the emergence of Paradise of the Blind in 1987 and 1988 outraged Vietnamese leaders for the novel’s negative portrayal of land reform.  Duong Thu Huong once again found herself censored, as Paradise of the Blind was placed on the banned books list.  60,000 printings of the novel were supposedly sold before the authoritarian government attempted to confiscate all copies, issuing an order that the book be withdrawn from circulation.  The author has stated that when the government delivered the censorship decree to the publisher, all copies of the book had already been sold.  Duong Thu Huong was publicly declared a con di cua dang (“whore”) by Party Secretary Nguyen Van Linh, and expelled from the communist party in 1989.  After the publishing and banning of her next book in 1990, Novel Without A Name, the author found herself imprisoned by the Vietnamese government.

– John

Sources

McPherson, Nina. “Duong Thu Huong Banned Books.” Vietnamese Studies Group: Discussion List Archives, University of Washington. November 2, 2002. Last accessed April 30, 2013.             http://www.lib.washington.edu/SouthEastAsia/vsg/elist_2002/bannings.htm.

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