Thursday, November 15, 2012

Emily Maguire talks about coming to an understanding of Vietnam

Author Emily Maguire outside a Hanoi market

In 2008, I went to Hanoi on a three month Asialink literature residency and fell passionately in love with the place. I longed to stay forever, but I knew I couldn’t, because of various responsibilities and ties back in Sydney. As I walked the streets feeling heartbroken at having to leave soon, these characters began to emerge. Mischa, who has fled to Hanoi to escape an abusive marriage and then found herself unexpectedly besotted with the place, and then Cal, a young man who is hurt and angry because his father has made the kind of decision I wished I could make, and moved half a world away from his family.

Hanoi Street, photo by Emily Maguire

Cal's father is an Australian living in Vietnam, but his mother and grandparents were amongst the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese who fled their homeland after the fall of Saigon in 1975. He has spent his life thinking of Vietnam as a place to escape from, rather than to. As I wrote his story, I was forced to confront some hard truths about the country I had fallen for and its relationship with my own.

As an Australian born after the end of the American War (as they call it in Vietnam) I had knowledge but no real understanding of the conflict. My Vietnamese friends in Hanoi, too, were born after it was over and talked about it as ancient history (if at all). Indeed, one friend told me that the only people in Vietnam who cared about the war were American veterans who came to revisit battlefields and ‘calm their minds’.
However, reading work by, and speaking to, Vietnamese Australians whose families fled and whose memories of their country of birth are at best, complicated, and at worst, bitter, caused me to apply a new filter to the way I viewed my beloved Hanoi. In Fishing for Tigers, Cal does exactly that to Mischa.

Mischa is someone who considers herself a good person merely because she isn’t as bad as her friends. But Cal forces her to think about how the company she keeps reflects on her and how her choices might be damaging to others. She has to re-examine that very western idea that we each deserve happiness and that personal fulfilment is a worthwhile and morally defensible goal.

Apart from Mischa and Cal, the main character of Fishing for Tigers is Hanoi itself. It’s a thrilling, beautiful, vibrant, sensual, fascinating place and I loved every minute of working on this novel, because it allowed me to spend more time - if only in my imagination - in this incredible city.

A glimpse of Hanoi Cathedral (photo by Emily Maguire)

Are you ready to read Fishing for Tigers? This wonderful book - and any others - can be purchased through our on-line affiliate bookstores (top right). Those sales return a small % that supports the Universal Heart Network and Book Club.  We also welcome your comments and engagement!

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