My mom's upset that I know too little about Vietnamese literature.
Back then, I read some. If I cheat a bit and mention all writers I've read, even if I've read only 1 of their works, my list would include Nam Cao, Nguyễn Huy Thiệp, Phạm Thị Hoài, Nguyễn Tuân, Ma Văn Kháng, Nguyên Hồng, Thạch Lam, Phan Thị Vàng Anh, Hồ Anh Thái, Nguyễn Thị Minh Ngọc, Mạc Can, Tô Hoài, Nguyễn Ngọc Thuần, Nguyễn Nhật Ánh, Nguyễn Ngọc Tư, Thuận... The list of poets would include Hồ Xuân Hương, Hàn Mặc Tử, Bùi Giáng, Trần Dần, Xuân Diệu, Nguyễn Bính, T. T. Kh, Thanh Tâm Tuyền, Trần Đăng Khoa, Phùng Quán... That is, I haven't mentioned those I had to read in school, such as Đoàn Thị Điểm, Nguyễn Du, Nguyễn Trãi, Bà Huyện Thanh Quan, Lê Thánh Tông, Lý Thường Kiệt, Nguyễn Bỉnh Khiêm, Nguyễn Khuyến, Chế Lan Viên, Thép Mới, Chính Hữu, Hồ Chí Minh, Tố Hữu, Phạm Tiến Duật, Huy Cận, Hồ Dzếnh, Tản Đà... Should I refer to internet writers as well, who became famous in the internet and got published? Then I've read Keng Link.
But that of course is cheating. That was a long time ago, I hardly remember anything. And I was a horrible reader then. Except for Hàn Mặc Tử and Bùi Giáng, I don't read Vietnamese literature any more- haven't, for a while. The only writers I can still say something about are Nam Cao, Phạm Thị Hoài, Hồ Anh Thái, Nguyễn Ngọc Tư, Nguyễn Nhật Ánh and Nguyễn Ngọc Thuần, and I still feel uncertain. In other words, let's just say that I'm absolutely ignorant. To add to that, the national epic Truyện Kiều (in English: The Tale of Kieu) by Nguyễn Du, I haven't read in full either.
Which is horrible. Embarrassing. No, shameful. Humiliating.
In fact I don't read Asian literature in general. A bit of Chinese literature, mostly poetry. A few Japanese prose writers like Haruki Murakami, Ryu Murakami, Banana Yoshimoto... Absolutely nothing by writers from other Asian countries.
Isn't that awful?
I have my excuses: determination not to use Vietnamese so as to prioritise English and Norwegian, lack of Vietnamese books in Norway, dislike of ebooks, traumatising experience at Vietnamese schools (revolutionary/ red/ propaganda writing, wrong teaching method that allows no critical thinking)... It's perhaps a matter of priorities, as I want to read the many British, American, Russian and French novels that everyone or at least every serious reader, literature lover should read (and then German, Spanish, Italian, Latin American...), and Vietnamese literature isn't comparable (the strengths are in verse rather than prose, short stories and novellas rather than novels*), which is to say that a Vietnamese person not reading Vietnamese literature isn't as shocking as, say, an American not reading American literature or a Russian not reading Russian literature. Or maybe it's more like a matter of preference, as I grew up reading and it's the Western books and authors that have stayed with me over time. If I have read those Vietnamese writers and cannot call any of them a favourite, cannot put them in the same list with the British, American, Russian and French writers I think highly of, then it's not my fault, I tell myself. I'm entitled to reading what I'm interested in, I tell myself. Life is short and we have to make our choices, I tell myself. Lots of native speakers of English restrict themselves to English-language novels and don't care about "world literature" anyway, I tell myself.
But that doesn't make me feel much better.
So now I'm confessing, and exposing this humiliating truth.
Comment! Discuss! Share your thoughts! Humiliate me! Throw stones at me!
*: according to several people whose judgement I trust. Also, in Vietnamese literature after Nguyễn Du (1766- 1820), there's no writer that has the place of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky in Russia or Proust in France or Marquez in Colombia.