Paulliver (paulliver) wrote in bookish,

Nguyen Huy Thiep

I finished reading “The General Retires,” a collection of Nguyen Huy Thiep’s short fiction. If it has any ideological theme, it would be the Buddhist idea that life is suffering. Everyone is suffering except for a few detached sages that are never the main characters, from poverty, from bullies, from inner demons, broken hearts… much like Russian literature, come to think of it.

And there isn’t any escape from suffering, no happy endings in the Western mold. You live until you die. A lot of these stories take place in the countryside or involve rural characters moving into the city, much like Nguyen himself. In one of them a city relative sends home a hunting rifle of such quality that the main character goes hunting for monkeys leading to a sequence of events that could either be horrific, funny, or both depending upon the inclination of whoever turns it into a movie.

He writes almost strictly from a male point of view in this collection, with the women as the Other, but he doesn’t write them as demons or angels, even if some of the male characters see them as such. For Thiep, they are mostly suffering, too.

The focus on rural life can give a Western reader a feeling that the stories are historical because the technology is old fashioned, but suddenly will pop up references to the modern world like Chernobyl or the wider world like a would be rapist (and all around gangster) making fun of the main character who defended the woman by comparing him to Don Quixote defending Dulcinea. That story, “The Woodcutters,” had the widest variance between what woman were, the oppressed gender, and how some men saw them, as devils. The inability to see reality for what it is could also be from Buddhist influence.
Tags: author: n, genre: fiction

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