In February I sailed down the Mekong with Ly Lan. She met me at the airport in Saigon the week before and installed me in Chinatown then took me out to her mother’s village.
She had worked through the previous fall translating poems, essays and a short story representative of her work about Saigon and its countryside for our boat’s passengers to read. Click on any of Jason Rainey’s drawings to read the translations, for instance “On the My Thuan Bridge.”
That poem conveys the happiness of walking with the crowd on the day the bridge opened in 2000. The essay “Daily Song” by contrast shows how miserable the street is for a poor girl and Lan’s difficulty in helping her.
In the short story “A Dumb Woman,” a girl is raped and becomes a market woman who can’t make friends. What happens isn’t her fault but that is the only helpful way to look at it.
Lan writes for the people and she tells them complicated things about the world she grew up with, Saigon and its countryside where a middle class was born in the war and defeated collectivism in peace.
The writer, and so her reader, look out from the middle and in from the outside. To learn more see this introduction and interview by critic Lily Chiu.
Read Jonathan Hill’s comic about Lan’s life and work. Click on the photo to read her Wikivietlit entry with links to more translations.