Next Monday is the birthday of novelist Le Luu. He was born in 1942.
Ho Chi Minh declared independence in August 1945. After the victory over France in 1954 Le Luu was about the same age as Sai, the small boy already married to a young girl when A Time Far Past (Thoi xa vang) begins.
Sai flees his marriage into reading then into the Army. A Time Far Past is a soldier’s book rather than a war novel.
It resembles From Here to Eternity which is about Schofield Barracks at Pearl Harbor rather than the Japanese attack. Sai leads us through the People’s Army of Viet Nam, the family and village of Ha Noi at war with Saigon.
He is looking for love. Fannie notes at Amazon that Sai reads Jane Eyre in barracks.
Jane finds her love eventually but when we leave Sai he has abandoned the Army and all his women and children to serve his home village in a swamp north of Ha Noi. Le Luu holed up outside of Hai Phong to write his novel.
He published A Time Far Past just as the Secretary of the Party called on writers in 1986 to contribute to doi moi, the renovation of Vietnamese society. To speak of idealism in the hustling present Le Luu looked back through the Army a small boy had joined to get away from his wife.
The novel found a national audience. When renovation within Viet Nam turned to reconciliation with the United States a team from the William Joiner Center at the University of Massachusetts translated it for the English-speaking world.
James Banerian dismissed A Time Far Past as low-brow and insufficiently anti-communist. Another student of Nguyen Dinh Hoa, John C. Schafer, later compared the novel to Tran Manh Hao’s Ly than (Separation) that was suppressed at the same time as A Time Far Past won a prize.
More criticism in English will further help readers grasp this romance of the People’s Army. For today, best wishes and many happy returns to the author.