This week’s Translation Tuesday features the harrowing work of Nguyễn Đức Tùng. Illustrative language supports a narrative of unbelievable realism, as the speaker relates the acts of necessity during the Vietnam War that reverberated through the coming generations. Specific lives are pulled out of the polarizing and stereotyped recounting typical of that terrible war, and the author seizes on every chance to give intimate details of lives affected and bowled over. The narrator’s travels to a forgotten home, occupied by a woman who cannot keep but only gives, mirrors and subverts colonial narratives of inaccessibility and backwardness. In the end, the “The Woman by the River” thematizes hope and testifies to the possibility of stories surviving war and the smothering narratives that surround it.
My mother needed to find someone who would sell her a child. It would not be for her; she had given birth to several children, been provided with both boys and girls. The child would be for her cousin who lived in town and had been married for ten years but was still barren. One time my mother took me to the river for this mission, thinking a five-year-old boy like me wouldn’t understand grown-up affairs, or if I learned anything I would forget it as soon as I grew up.
But my mother was wrong.