July 1 is Canada Day. The Chinese up there boycotted the holiday through the years of the Exclusion Act, but that was long in the past by the time the great global Vietnamese novelist arrived in 1980.
He wrote his first book on the shore in Malaysia where his wife and child died in shipwreck escaping Viet Nam. The Communists had sent them all to starve in a New Economic Zone.
He first published a book in English, in the United States. But he observed that in English he would have to write about Viet Nam while in Vietnamese he could write about life.
His more than 25 books in print and audio have been mainstays of Vietnamese bookstores everywhere except Viet Nam. His variety show, Paris By Night, is a place of the imagination for all Vietnamese, in diaspora and at home.
His success stoked envy in his peers. A red background in one of his music videos occasioned two volumes of fiery discussion about how Ngan secretly serves the Communists.
The affair stands as an example of what Ngan, a satirist, writes about, folly. My favorite novel, Coi Dem, shows a not particularly evil Vietnamese American on return to Saigon where he crushes the lives of all he meets in collisions of naivete and greed.
In “Two Ducks” and “My Communist Warden and I,” translated here by MacArthur genius Huynh Sanh Thong, Ngan shows his fellow Saigon intellectuals, brutalized by hunger in the re-education camps, trying to understand the uneducated robots who defeated them.
The stories rock brain and heart. They come from a Vietnamese in Canada, in touch but free from the rule of France, all the nations of the Pacific, the United States and any specific Vietnamese community.