Forty-eight years ago a man I admire took poison. He was a publisher living in the woods where he gathered orchids he painted for the cover of his lifestyle magazine.
Young in the 1930s, Nhat Linh was a best-selling fiction writer in Ha Noi and editor of many others. He joined forces with Ho Chi Minh against France late in the 1940s then ran when the Communists started killing their allies.
Middle-aged in the new Republic of Viet Nam, what Americans and no Vietnamese called South Vietnam, he addressed himself to the people swelling Saigon and the other cities. He published cheerful advice in a magazine and reprints of his old Self Reliance best-sellers.
In 1963, the month after Quang Duc burned himself alive on the cover of newspapers around the world, Nhat Linh drank a final bottle of Scotch. He had conspired against Ngo Dinh Diem for taking American direction and silencing his rivals.
When those chickens came home to roost Nhat Linh’s readers packed his books on their headlong flight. I have a reprint of a Nhat Linh novel published by refugees not far from the Arkansas resettlement camp in 1976.
I missed the July 7 death anniversary but Viet Nam Literature Project has long been devoted to the memory of Nhat Linh. For his influence see my dissertation.
For overview, see Jason Rainey’s cartoon adaptation from Neil Jamieson’s Understanding Viet Nam, our Wikivietlit entry or the Vietnamese Wikipedia entry under his everyday name Nguyen Tuong Tam. For origins, see Greg and Monique Lockhart’s annotated translation of Going to France.
Please note that the Lockhart translations download very slowly.
For Nhat Linh’s musing on art and life, read Jason’s cartoon version of Two Beauties or read Greg and Monique’s translation of A Dream of Tu Lam. We send a print copy of Jason’s whole Nhat Linh comic book to any donor.