(versione italiana) On 18 April 2016, at the Broadway Columbia University, Pulitzer Hall 709, New York, U.S.A., was born a new and Brightest Star in the firmament of the planetary literature: Viet Thanh Nguyen!
Viet Thanh Nguyen is not yet a writer known to the world, at least until now, on Easter Monday of 2017. He is not, and he wasn't until a year ago, even in his adopted country, the United States of America.
Viet Thanh was born in Buôn Ma Thuôt, Vietnam, in 1971. In the 1975 his family fled to the United States for seeking political asylum, after the fall of the regime supported by the Americans in an attempt to colonize the country motivating the "armed invasion" with the noblest of objectives of Western policy: "import the democracy" in Vietnam through a bloody war, bloody and painful of which the American people still bears deep scars and indelible.
All Vietnamese refugees who had supported the US Government, and who managed to escape from the Vietnamese Revolution, they were greeted immediately in several camps on US soil: Viet Thanh Nguyen's family spent the first period of his stay in Pennsylvania, at the refugee camp of Fort Indiantown Gap.
Only at the end of the ‘70 Viet and his family can start a life as free citizens, and as true Americans, getting from the US government for permission to relocate where they wanted to live from the moment they set foot in the US: in California, in San Jose, for climate and for humus that was considered by Nguyen, at least in the imagination, the closest to that of their country that they had loved and had abandoned forever, to escape certain death.
It's from California that the small Viet Thanh Nguyen began his studies with passion, intelligence and determination, graduating in the May 1992 with honors in "English Literature and Ethics" studies; then becoming, in 1997, university professor in “English and American Studies and Ethnicity” in the prestigious University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
Viet starts writing novels, short stories and non-fiction books, as well as performing with great diligence, competence and preparation his profession of university professor.
In the 2015, he published his first novel, "The Sympathizer", published by Grove Press, New York.
In the April 18, 2016 Viet Thanh Nguyen won the most prestigious literary awards in the world, the Pulitzer Prize, in the category "Fiction", with the following motivation: «a layered immigrant tale told in the wry, confessional voice of a “man of two minds” and “two countries”, Vietnam and the United States».
This is the premise of the prestigious interview that Prof. Nguyen Viet Thanh has given me today using the powerful information and communication media available to us all; means that give me the possible to get in touch with who I consider to be one of the best and deepest writers in the twenty-first century.
Here's my interview.
Prof. Nguyen Viet Thanh, if you were to say something to our readers, as artist and as a writer, what would you tell them?
When you thought about writing this fiction, which were your project objectives?
First, to contest the way that the Vietnam War has been remembered globally, which is primarily through American stories (in literature and in film). This was perhaps the first war in history where the losers (the Americans) were able to write the history instead of the victors. The Vietnamese of all sides have been erased, silenced, and/or mutilated in American stories, and while Vietnamese memories in Vietnam and its diaspora are vastly different, they are not widely known. So I thought of my novel as revenge against American stories, and an attempt to write a different history of the war from Vietnamese perspectives.
Second, to write a novel that was universal in its discussion of war, loyalty, betrayal, and revolution, and yet was unapologetically rooted in the history of the Vietnamese.
I think that your fiction is the most interesting and shocking book written in the last twenty years, for all that it contains, for the quality of the narrative and for the deep psychological introspection that with excellent skill you do for all the protagonists of your history; at the same time, you have skillfully overturned, with thin class and irony, the interpretative perspective of the War in Vietnam. What does that say about it?
Thank you! I think what my novel says is that there is no history or story that has been told again and again, in highly repetitive ways, as the American story of the Vietnam War has been told, that cannot be upended and redone in a completely new way.
How was your experience as Vietnamese Naturalized American in the United States of America? What were the advantages and disadvantages of being a refugee of war, naturalized in a country that still and always gives priority to the merit and to the personal talent, and it gives large space for professional and social success to all the people?
As a refugee in the United States, I always felt that I was a spy. I was an American in my parents’ Vietnamese household, spying on their strange customs, food, and language. Outside that home, I felt like a Vietnamese spying on Americans in all their beauty and strangeness. I learned never to take for granted what any culture told about itself, to always be skeptical. This was an uncomfortable position to be in, but a productive place for a novelist, who should always be both empathetic and critical. In so far as I was a sympathetic skeptic, I both deeply understood the power and seduction of the American Dream that you refer to, and yet was also always aware of its pitfalls. The American Dream is, in fact, made possible only by the American Nightmare of genocide, slavery, colonization, warfare, racism, and exploitation, as well as the denial of all those things. I came to the United States because of the American Nightmare delivered to the country of my birth, and I grew up in the United States as the beneficiary of the American Dream. That is the contradiction that made me who I am as a writer, and from which I cannot retreat but must confront continually, as I do in The Sympathizer.
If two children aged ten years come to you to ask with spontaneity, innocence and curiosity: "Prof. Viet Thanh Nguyen, please, explains us what is the Art?", How would you respond to this question to make them understand what they want to know?
Art is what you feel and what you believe, what you can see in your mind’s eye. How to achieve what you see so that others can see it too is a task of a lifetime, rooted in the emotional insights and pain of who you are, as a child.
Will you come in Italy to present your fiction "The Sympathizer"? If yes, when and what will be the tour so that our readers can come to hear you speak and to meet you for their autograph on his fiction that will have bought?
I would love to see Italy again, since my first and only encounter with it was in the summer of 1998 when I backpacked through Rome, Venice, and Florence. That was a wonderful, beautiful, and romantic experience. I’ve been invited to a few festivals for the summer of 2017, and will decide soon whether I can attend.
Prof. Nguyen Viet Thanh Thanks to you so much for giving me this interview that I confess, it has flattered me and honored me so much ... and, as you Americans say, break a leg ...
Thanks to you, Andrea, for asking me the interview for your Italian readers.
For more information about the Pulitzer Prize 2016, the writer Nguyen Viet Thanh:
For more information about the author of the article: