Duong Thu Huong was born in the Thai Binh province of North Vietnam in 1947. She completed her studies at a Hanoi art school which had been relocated to the countryside to avoid being destroyed by bombs. At age 20 she was forced into an arranged marriage and for nearly ten years she supported herself by leading an artists’ group for the entertainment of soldiers at the front, chiefly at the border with South Vietnam, which was exposed to the heaviest bombings. There she also discovered the arrogance and contempt of the Communist Party cadres who had led her generation into the Vietnamese war effort.
After the end of the war in 1975, by dint of the capitulation of South Vietnam, she worked in the film studios of Hanoi. She divorced her husband and went on to become the first female correspondent to report on the war against China. At the same time she started publishing her work which consists of poems, screenplays, short stories, essays and novels. »I never intended to become a writer. I wrote because of the pain. Pain is the precise word. My novels are cries of pain. My work is inseparable from the society in which I live; the country, Vietnam, which forged me. During the war I had time to reflect. I took note of the destinies of my compatriots. Little by little, this became an obsession and, in the end, I had to write.«
At the beginning of the nineteen eighties, she spoke out at official Communist Party events and at congresses of writers’ organisations, as well as in interviews for various Party publications, criticising bureaucracy, corruption and »intellectual cowardice«. In 1987, with her novel »Ben Kia Bo Ao Vong« (Eng. »Beyond Illusions«, 2002), Duong became the first writer to decry the Party’s dictatorial grip on art and culture, and to castigate Vietnamese intellectuals for their willingness to barter lies for sustenance, glory and power. A ban of her work was ordered after she published her third novel »Nhung Thien Duong Mu« (1988; Eng. »Paradise of the Blind«, 1993) which dealt with the horrors of land reform from 1953. In 1990 she sent the manuscript of »Tieu Thuyet Vo De« (Eng. »Novel Without a Name«, 1995) to be published in France and the USA. That same year she was barred from the Party and her documentary film on the inhuman living conditions in a camp for mentally ill war veterans was destroyed. In 1991 she was imprisoned with no right to trial and released after seven months following international protests.
The novels which Duong sent abroad have all been translated into French and English and published in at least ten other languages. The author was made a Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government and received the Prince Claus Foundation Award and the Grinzane Cavour Literary Award. Her novels have been shortlisted for the International Dublin IMPAC Award. Duong Thu Huong currently lives in Paris.
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