No Man’s Land
The author makes an astute observation: “A ghost that comes back to the living is three times as hungry for life as an ordinary man.” In a mountain hamlet of Vietnam, 1975, the commune president tells Mien, “Bon gave his share of blood in the war against the Americans to liberate our country.” After 14 years, Bon has returned, and he wants his wife back. The problem is, Mien has married a successful planter, Hoan. They have a son and a happy marriage. Social pressure, conflict and jealousy threaten to destroy them.
The plot evokes post-war films such as “Le Colonel Chabert” starring Gerard Depardieu, a French colonel presumed dead who straggles back from Napoleon’s Russian campaign to find his wife remarried; and “Sommersby” set in the post-Civil War South.
Huong’s no man’s land is ambiguity. In rich descriptions of the seaside, metaphors of fish and flowers, she weaves a lyrical spell. She knows the human heart and explores the agonizing decisions of a noble soul, evoking sympathy for all three people in limbo. Each has a viewpoint, and she peels back the years from an everyday scene to depict the history that led up to it. Bon is haunted by the ghost of his sergeant. Hoan remembers a fisherwoman who was kind to him in his younger days. The author paints a panorama with all the details. In dialogue the characters seek to make amends and grant justice. In depicting their plight, she conveys an anti-war theme.
Huong’s depiction of political intrigue is not flattering to the Communist Party, which ousted her in 1990. Her novels are banned in Vietnam, where she lives in internal exile.