23. ilb 06. – 16.09.2023

Nam Le

Nam Le was born in Vietnam in 1978 and grew up in Australia. Although he graduated in Law at Melbourne University, he only worked as a lawyer for a short time and soon found himself called to writing. In an interview he ascribed his change of heart to his own love of books: he hoped to give other people the feelings that he himself had while reading. He describes his parents as one of his most important sources of inspiration; they fled to Australia as refugees of the Communist regime and had to make numerous sacrifices in their lives.
The idea for Le’s first book came during a year-long trip round the world and he used it as the basis for his application to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. There he received a Masters in Creative Writing, and there he threw his novel away. Over the ensuing years Le received a number of fellowships in the U.S., Europe, and Australia, and took on the fiction editorship of the »Harvard Review«.
»The Boat«, a collection of seven stories, appeared in 2008. Each of these pieces, which are all war stories of one sort or another, demonstrates the brutality of life. Whether in the Vietnam War, nuclear war or the war of the sexes, Le’s characters are always on the brink of their own destruction and, mercilessly exposed to reality, no longer masters of their own destiny. They can be described as victims of the 20th Century. Their stories also reveal the dark side of modern society, a seductive illusion which disguises a dramatic reality. Whatever the backdrop – small town America, New York City, Teheran, Hiroshima or the slums of Colombia – each protagonist’s situation seems hopeless. The Australian youth who falls in love with the girlfriend of a known thug; the American woman who travels to Iran and is forced to surrender her personal and political illusions; or the Colombian hit man who spares his best friend and so puts his own life in danger – they all have hopes which seem doomed to disappointment, and yet open to endurance. Le’s debut can be seen as a journey round the globe but the author also incorporates autobiographical elements and tells stories of Vietnam and its people.
»The Boat« has been translated into 14 languages and has attracted numerous international awards, including the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, the PEN/Malamud Award, the Melbourne Prize for Literature and the Australian Prime Minister’s Literary Award, and was cited as a book of the year by more than 30 newspapers and magazines around the world, including the »New York Times«, »Los Angeles Times« and the »Independent«. In 2008, Le also received the Dylan Thomas Prize, for the best literary work in any genre in the English language by an author under 30. The author lives both in Australia and abroad.

© internationales literaturfestival berlin


Im Boot
Berlin, 2008
[Ü: Sky Nonhoff]