Paradise of the Blind - Duong Thu Huong

A rich, sensuous journey through a Vietnam rarely seen by outsiders. Paradise of the Blind tells the story of three women fighting to maintain their dignity under a government that discards old values and tears families apart. Hang, a young girl growing into womanhood in the Hanoi slums, finally learns the truth about her father's disappearance and death during the era of government-imposed land reform. Meanwhile, Hang's self-sacrificing mother, a struggling street vendor, watches helplessly as her life is shattered by the political machinations of her own brother. And the mysterious Aunt Tam, who has accumulated wealth and bitterness in equal measure, fights for her niece's loyalty - and future. 

Genre: Fiction, Family Saga, Vietnamese
Publisher: Perennial
Year: 1988
Rating: 4/5


Paradise of the Blind is another one of my work reads. This novel was the first Vietnamese novel printed in the United States and it is banned in Vietnam due to the stark picture it gives of the country and it's political view.

In a world where women come second to men and communism takes away not only people's land, but their livelihoods and dreams, three women fight to survive.

This novel follows Hang as she makes the journey to Moscow to visit her sick uncle. Along the way she reminisces about her life, growing up in Hanoi, her days at university and how they were cut short, leaving her with no choice but to eke out a living working in a Russian textile factory.

Hang didn't have an easy life due to the political allegiance of her Uncle Chinh. A reverent communist, Chinh did not approve of his sister's husband Ton being a landowner, and subsequently drove him away.This put into effect a series of events that would make sure that Que would never have her husband back and that Ton would meet a sad end.

Aunt Tam (Ton's sister) has never forgiven Chinh for his part in land reform and the devastating effects this had on her family. Despite that, she loves Hang very much, taking her under her wing and helping her where ever she can. 

Que, as devastated as she is by these events, can not let go of family loyalties and when Chinh finds himself in a position of poverty and sickness, Que rushes to his aid. She happily gives up everything she has to provide for Chinh and his family, even her own daughter. 

Hang finds herself torn between two women. The mother she loves who continues to disappoint her and treat her with indifference, and the Aunt who provides for her but with a  stifling overbearance.

This was such a sad novel. The three women that this novel followed, were all very fascinating characters. Each had their own problems, desires and motivations that made for some interesting reading, even though I did not always agree with the choices they made.

For instance, I could not understand how Que could put her brother before her own child, after everything he had done. He had treated her terribly and destroyed her family and her future, yet she still put family loyalties first. 

This novel also gave a good look into the culture of Vietnamese peasants. Duong Thu Huong did a wonderful job of describing Hanoi, the atmosphere, the people, their customs and the food. It was all very interesting and considering this is the first Vietnamese novel I have read, it was so different to anything I have read about before.

This book is a must read for anyone who loves to read a variety of world literature, books by women and stories about struggling families and their lives.
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