A tale told all over the world
For Hanoi book collector Le Hai Doan, De Men Phieu Luu Ky (Diary of a Cricket) is a special book that has helped him make friends with others around the world who feel the same way.
In collecting different versions, Doan vaguely feels like the main character in the book, Cricket, who undertook a worldwide adventure to make friends and to call on other species to unite for a peaceful world. Love of author To Hoai’s (1920-2014) book helped Doan learn more about the world when he tried to locate different versions in different languages
A portrait of To Hoai
With more than 40 languages now covered, Diary of a Cricket is the most translated of all Vietnamese books. The story tells of Cricket’s travels to discover the world, just as the book itself has done, appearing in Thailand, Japan, China, South Korea, Germany, Romania, France, Slovakia, and elsewhere.
To Hoai was born Nguyen Sen into a craft family in Thanh Oai District in what was then Ha Dong Province but is now Ha Dong District in Hanoi. He held a number of jobs before focusing on writing in the 1940s. He was awarded the Hồ Chí Minh Prize for Literature, the most noble prize in the field, in 2006.
Diary of a Cricket describes the adventures of a cricket, a metaphor for humans, and is To Hoai most famous work, which he wrote at the tender age of 17.
He has left a giant legacy in Vietnamese literature, with folk tales, novels, and short stories, many of which are on school reading lists.
The Kim Dong Publishing House has hosted activities in recent times to mark his 100th birthday. The writer handed over the copyright for more than 200 titles to the children’s publishers.
It has released various versions of Diary of a Cricket, one of the most popular stories among Vietnamese children and the most widely read from generation to generation.
This is the first time readers have had the chance to see the book in different languages and with illustrations from famous artists like Ngo Xuan Khoi, Ta Huy Long, Dau Thi Ngoc Vinh, and Thanh Chuong.
A copy hand-written by To Hoai was also introduced for the first time.
His other famous works, like Truyen Tay Bac (Stories from the Northwestern Region), Tu Truyen (My Own Story), O Chuot (Hunting Mice), Nha Ngheo (Poor Family), and Ba Nguoi Khac (Three Others), have been reprinted.
Nguyen Dang Diep, deputy director of the Literature Institute, said To Hoai’s works contain both humane and social values.
“He’s an author for children, adults, and people from all walks of life,” he said. “He told stories of ordinary lives, Hanoi stories, his own tales, and of changes in society, all with a tolerant and honest heart.”
He added that To Hoai’s language is diverse, rich, and profound. Perhaps this is why many extracts from his books are cited at primary and secondary schools to enrich students’ vocabulary and language skills.
“His words are rich in imagery, his sentences lively,” Diep said. “I believe that writing and writing again gave To Hoai stature. He wrote tirelessly, professionally, and carefully.”
“For him, writing was like morning exercise or breathing. He wrote anytime, anywhere, on a business trip, during a break in a meeting, or even in a hospital bed.”
Entitled De Men (Cricket), the annual non-profit awards are presented to excellent compositions, art performances, and entertainment programmes created for children.
They include one grand prize, called “Cricket Knight”, and several others called “Cricket Desire”.
Nguyen Quang Thieu, chairman of the judging panel, expects the awards will inspire other authors to write for children.
“I want to call upon writers and poets to write for little readers,” he said. “In any period of 10 years, you should spend a third or a quarter writing something for children.
“Not something big. Just write about your own children or grandchildren, with heart and honesty. Don’t teach, don’t judge, don’t ask them to do something; just let them know you understand them and want to play with them.”
Vinh was the first female artist to illustrate Diary of a Cricket. “I drew the illustrations for my university dissertation,” she explained.
“Over the course of seven years, I completed more than a hundred illustrations, which I think give a new look to an old story.
“This is the first time I have drawn animals. I read the story when I was young, and loved it very much.”
The artist uses watercolours for the characters and, for the first time by anyone, depicts them in a modern style. There can be no doubt that To Hoai inspired readers and other writers and artists to live and work with meaning.
Collecting different versions of Diary of a Cricket has become a hobby of many book lovers, finding the story in different languages or in Vietnamese versions illustrated by different artists.
Book collector Doan found a Vietnamese man living in Slovakia in a Vietnamese community forum, with whom he shared the hobby of reading and collecting books.
The 60-year-old hasn’t met Doan yet, but has enthusiastically helped him find a version of Cricket published in 1982 in Slovakian. He has also visited many old bookshops to find other copies of the book. By chance, he visited Dr Ján Mucka, who had translated the book from Vietnamese into Slovakian.
“He helped me contact the translator, Mucka, and I was happy to have the chance to get to know him,” Doan said. “It’s interesting, isn’t it?”
Doan also owns a few rare versions in Romanian and Russian. He loves comparing the differences in the way artists from different cultures depict Cricket in the illustrations.
“No matter where Cricket goes, he’s loved by everyone, and that exactly what’s described in the story,” Doan said.
SEA Games torch carried through streets of Hà Nội
HÀ NỘI – Excitement filled the air as the 32nd SEA Games and 12th ParaGames torch made its way through the streets of Hà Nội on the morning of March 24 at the start of its ASEAN tour ahead of the highly anticipated regional sports event in May.
Brimming with symbolism, the torch was ceremoniously lit from a small lamp that had landed on Việt Nam’s soil two days prior, and had been carefully guarded at the Cambodian Embassy.
Witnessed by Cambodian and Vietnamese leaders, sports officials, as well as hundreds of athletes and local people, the lighting of the torch was a powerful reminder of the unity and spirit of the ASEAN community.
In a stirring speech, Cambodian ambassador Chea Kimtha expressed his gratitude to the Vietnamese Government, the Việt Nam Olympic Committee, and all other agencies involved for their support and tireless efforts in organising the torch relay.
She said the torch relay ceremony showed the good relationship between the two countries and the traditional friendship that had been built up and maintained for a long time.
“SEA Games is considered a major festival for Southeast Asian countries,” said Đặng Hà Việt, director of the Việt Nam Sports Administration. “Cambodia and other countries organised many activities to respond to and celebrate the SEA Games and ParaGames.”
“Việt Nam is the first leg of the 32nd SEA Games torch relay after the host country. I want to reaffirm that Việt Nam will always support with utmost effort for successfully organising the 32nd SEA Games in Cambodia.”
Runner Nguyễn Thị Huyền carried the torch under the escort of 200 athletes, guests, and thousands of residents.
The relay started from the embassy office to the streets of Quang Trung, Đinh Tiên Hoàng, Đông Kinh Nghĩa Thục Square, to Hàng Trống, Bà Triệu, Lý Thường Kiệt and returns to the embassy.
The torch will leave Việt Nam tomorrow to visit Manila, the Philippines, before touring Bandar Seri Begawan (Brunei), Jakarta (Indonesia), Dili (Timor Leste), Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), Singapore, Bangkok (Thailand), Yangon and Naypyidaw (Myanmar) and Vientiane (Laos) on April 25.
It will arrive in Cambodia on April 27 and travel around the country until May 5.
The SEA Games will be held on May 5-17 in Phnom Penh and four other localities. The ParaGames will run from June 3-9, mainly in Phnom Penh. VNS
SEA Games torch to tour Hà Nội
HÀ NỘI — The 32nd Southeast Asian (SEA) Games torch will be carried around Hà Nội, the first stop in its tour of 10 ASEAN countries, on March 24.
The torch, escorted by nine members of the Cambodian delegation, arrived in the capital city on March 22, and was warmly welcomed by leaders of the Việt Nam Sports Administration.
The torch is 75cm tall and weighs 1kg. It is designed following the shape of the Romdoul, Cambodia’s national flower.
The torch relay stands for solidarity, friendship, and good cooperation among nations in the region.
Earlier, King Norodom Sihamoni presided over a torch lighting ceremony on March 21 at Angkor Wat in Cambodia, marking the start of the torch relay.
This year, the SEA Games flame was ignited by the rays of the sun on the roof of the sacred temple. The ceremony was timed to coincide with the equinox, when the sun crossed the plane of the earth’s equator and day and night are of equal length. At that time the sun rose exactly on the top of the main temple of Angkor Wat. And the flame was lit up and was considered a sacred fire.
King Sihamoni then passed the torch to nine well-known Cambodian athletes, including two SEA Games gold medalists, to run around the temple area before it travelled to Việt Nam the next day.
Speaking about the event, Secretary of State at the Ministry of Tourism and Special Envoy of the Cambodian SEA Games and ASEAN Para Games Organising Committees Hor Sarun said it was the first time that the kingdom hosted the regional sports meet. Apart from the competition, the torch relay was an indispensable part of the Games.
He said Cambodia especially cared about the torch relay organisation sending the torch to all 10 countries with a view to widely popularise the 32nd SEA Games to all people.
In Hà Nội, the relay will be kicked off at 9am. National runner Nguyễn Thị Huyền will take the honour to hold the torch, escorted by 10 other outstanding athletes and hundreds of other people and guests. The delegation will start from the Cambodian Embassy and go through different streets in Hà Nội before returning to the embassy.
The next stop of the torch will be the Philippines, followed by Brunei, Indonesia, Timor-Leste, Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar and Laos, before returning to Cambodia on April 27.
The SEA Games will be held on May 5-17 in four localities with opening and closing ceremonies at the Morodok Techo Stadium in Phnom Penh. It will be followed by the 12th ASEAN Para Games on June 3-9. VNS
Fantasy literature struggles to find readers
The world of fantasy literature has seen amazing works such as Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter and Twilight, but experts say very few Vietnamese writers are interested in the genre, which is relatively new to them.
Seeing the vast potential for sales that promise many opportunities for fantasy writing talent to develop, some young writers have moved into the field and had initial success, but more efforts are needed to attract more readers.
“This market has been built before thanks to many world-famous fantasy books imported, translated and published in Việt Nam. It is from this background that readers started to pay attention to Vietnamese fantasy works,” the Thanh Niên (Young People) newspaper quoted Khúc Thị Hoa Phượng, director of Women’s Publishing House, as saying.
“However, the number of writers interested in this genre of literature in the country is unable to meet demand. The number of authors of the nineties generation, including those for fantasy, is still too small, and their works sporadic,” she said.
“It is our desire that fantasy writing will not only be expanded, but also attract writers with in-depth works. It means that the writers not only invest in a methodical one or two books, or a series of stories, but stick their whole life to writing them. By doing that, this new types of books will develop in a professional direction.”
Fantasy is a literary genre that opens up endless fiction with stories about the supernatural, magic or things only in the imagination. For the past 10 years, a limited number of young Vietnamese authors have boldly experimented with the style.
Among such writers are Nguyễn Nhật Ánh with the series Chuyện xứ Lang Biang (The Story of Lang Biang) and Phan Hồn Nhiên with Những Đôi Mắt Lạnh (Cold Eyes) and Chuỗi hạt Azoth (Azoth Beads).
Some fantasy books have won prizes for young writers, such as UREM – Người đang mơ (UREM -The Dreamer) and Yagon – Những Kẻ Vô Cảm (Yagon – the Emotionless) by Phạm Bá Diệp, and Người Ngủ Thuê (The Sleeper) by Nhật Phi.
Recently, Nguyễn Đình Tú, a writer specialising in detective novels, has also tried his hand at the fantasy genre with the novel Bãi Săn (Hunting Ground).
Publishers claim young readers have a taste for fantasy, so they have launched several writing contests to stir up interest and encourage authors to try the genre. But lift-off has been limited.
According to Phạm Bá Diệp, part of the reason is that there are not many veteran writers interested in fantasy, while the younger ones do not have much experience, and their writing skills are not strong enough.
Moreover, some publishers do not dare to risk investing in fantasy works, preferring love stories, which are seen as a safe bet, Diệp said.
Some publishers claim that not even professional writers in the country can meet the standards of a fantasy series that needs to be written in a long-form imaginative way with a logical, tight and clearly built universe.
Vietnamese fantasy literature
Vietnamese literature in the early 20th century saw many outstanding achievements in which fantasy writing flourished with authors and works such as Thế Lữ with Vàng và Máu (Gold and Blood); TchyA with Thần Hổ (God of Tiger) and Lan Khai with Truyện Đường Rừng (The Tale of Forest), which are among the best and earliest written fantasy books in modern Vietnamese literature.
The period was a significant era for the country’s modern literature, and fantasy at that time attracted great attention from readers and critics. In newspapers, fantasy stories were in instalments and much-welcomed by the public.
Speaking on a talk show held recently by the Kim Đồng Publishing House to highlight the beauty of Vietnamese fantasy literature, Nguyễn Thị Năm Hoàng, a literary expert, said fantasy was a reflection of reality.
“Literature always has its own explanation, making people more mature. Each fantasy writer of each period of time offers a unique experience. Lan Khai offers a story within a story. TchyA is a source of highly philosophical material, while Thế Lữ brings out the poetic beauty of the mountains and taking journeys. Each brings their own atmosphere, customs and traditions,” Hoàng said.
“Through the works we see magic and mysterious scenes, but they are also very real. Each work is a vivid and rich picture of nature.”
Meanwhile, writer Di Li said these works could most accurately be described as horror fantasy literature. According to Li, contemporary literature has lost its atmosphere because we no longer have “forests” to store the legends.
“People have destroyed the very places where legends are kept. In fantasy works by Thế Lữ, Lan Khai and TchyA, the writing style is a bit old but still attractive and lures readers. Fantasy literature has always been popular because it opens the imagination for readers to travel through the pages of a book,” he said.
“Readers are still looking forward to welcoming Vietnamese fantasy series that are more elaborately invested and attractive. However, the journey for fantasy books to find a stand and to conquer readers is still arduous and challenging.” VNS
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