Paradise of the Blind is an exquisite portrait of three Vietnamese women struggling to survive in a society where subservience to men is expected and Communist corruption crushes every dream. Through the eyes of Hang, a young woman in her twenties who has grown up amidst the slums and intermittent beauty of Hanoi, we come to know the tragedy of her family as land reform rips apart their village. When her uncle Chinh‘s political loyalties replace family devotion, Hang is torn between her mother‘s appalling self–sacrifice and the bitterness of her aunt who can avenge but not forgive. Only by freeing herself from the past will Hang be able to find dignity –– and a future.
This staunchly unsentimental, evocative novel, originally published in Huong's native Vietnam and beautifully translated by Duong and McPherson, offers a narrative rich in detail and free of cliche. The author, who lives with her children in Hanoi, depicts the complexity of Vietnamese culture--the allegiance to family and ancestors, the symbolic value of food, class distinctions and the continuing sense of desperation mingled with pride. The protagonist, Hang, a physically fragile young woman of the '80s, recalls Hanoi in the previous decade. While there are subtle allusions to war and peacetime, Huong's focus is on the shifting, uneasy relationships between modernized Hang and her traditionalist mother, a merchant who peddles food; Hang's selfish, hypocritical uncle, a communist peasant; and Hang's comparatively wealthy, unconditionally loving aunt. Contrasts between young, old, urban and rural, help to convey the full variety of Vietnamese lifestyles. McPherson's introduction provides essential background information without spoiling the plot of Huong's unquestionably powerful tale. (Feb.)