French-Vietnamese Women Tells Wartime Memories through Graphic Novel

Vietnamese-French author Tran Hai Anh captivated readers with her graphic novel titled Sống (Live), a powerful graphic novel chronicling her mother's experiences in the American War in Vietnam.
March 14, 2024 | 23:53

The Kim Dong Publishing House, in collaboration with the French Institute in Vietnam, held an exchange on March 12 in Hanoi to launch a graphic novel, titled “Song” (Live), by Vietnamese-French author Tran Hai Anh and French illustrator Pauline Guitton, VNS reported.

In Sống, a mother tells her daughter about her own teenage years spent in hiding amid the war in Vietnam against the US. From 1969 to 1975, the mother, now a director, spent seven years with her father, a scriptwriter, in the forests with Vietnamese revolutionary soldiers. Her father introduced her to the national resistance and to film.

This tale of a Vietnamese woman in an untold part of history turns into a portrait of the complex relationship that Hai Anh has with her mother and her roots.

French-Vietnamese Women Tells Wartime Memories through Graphic Novel
The cover of graphic novel 'Sống'. Photo courtesy of Ankama Publishing

"Sống is a word that pops into my head when my mother told me about her adventure in her teenage years," said Hai Anh at the book launching ceremony at Kim Dong Publishing House.

"I decided to summarise each memory with a Vietnamese verb that helped me to embed the memory in my mind. Therefore, when reading a family story punctuated with vocabulary from that family language, French readers will likely discover many other words of the beautiful language that is Vietnamese," said Hai Anh.

Hai Anh is a young filmmaker, born and raised in France to a Vietnamese family. She spent more time with her father than with her mother, Vietnamese filmmaker Viet Linh, the woman behind many international-award-winning Vietnamese movies such as “Ganh xiec rong” (Mobile Circus Troupe), “Chung cu” (Apartment Building) and “Me Thao, thoi vang bong” (Me Thao, glorious time).

At present, Viet Linh is still working and running the Hong Hac Stage in Ho Chi Minh City.

Viet Linh said she was shocked when her daughter was so secretive that she did not let her see the manuscript before sending it for publication. That's why, when she held the book in her hand, she read it very carefully.

"My daughter and I often have small stories to tell each other every day, from memories of the past to the present. In 2016, she said she wanted to write a family story like that, which surprised me. Read a book, I learned 3 important lessons.

First, you should be friends with your child. Second, children save everything we tell them. This is so adorable and also so dangerous. Third, we should live without anger and ignorance. Just imagine that you are about to separate from someone very familiar, immerse yourself in that feeling to live more tolerantly," said director Viet Linh.

Hai Anh has a Master's degree in economics, culture, and cinema. She won the Forbes magazine honor 'Outstanding Young Faces Under 30 Years Old in Asia' in 2023.

She said both Pauline and she immediately envisioned Sống as a comic book, despite their backgrounds in the film industry. The simple truth is that they both have a deep love for reading comic books. In this story, the concept of time and chronology becomes hazy within the daily life of the jungle, which led her to choose a thematic narrative rather than a strictly chronological one. This approach aligns well with the form of a graphic novel. Besides that, Hai Anh and Pauline believed that illustrations would convey a greater sense of tenderness and poetry, given how heavy the story is.

Speaking at the book launching ceremony, French Ambassador Olivier Brochet expressed his joy when the book was launched in Vietnamese.

"This is a story of intergenerational communication between a mother and daughter," said the diplomat. "It contributes to recreating the nation's history from a rarely mentioned perspective and expressing a young person's desire to learn about her roots."

Meanwhile, writer Do Bich Thuy expressed her admiration for author Hai Anh because of her "graphic novel with a cinematic quality".

"I read this book 3 times. The author has restrained the words but still ensures a large amount of information and emotions. As a writer of long-form novels, I have learned many things. It turns out, there is no need to write It's too much, it just needs to be condensed," writer Do Bich Thuy expressed.

French-Vietnamese Women Tells Wartime Memories through Graphic Novel
Tran Hai Anh (left) and Pauline Guitton, co-author of 'Sống'. Photo courtesy of Tran Hai Anh/Olivier Clertant

Hai Anh wrote Sống with her friend Pauline Guitton who graduated with a Master's in Character Animation and Animated Filmmaking in 2021. She is now a storyboard artist, animator, and illustrator.

Sống is their first graphic novel. The book was first released in France in early 2023 with some 8,000 copies. It received support from the Publishing Support Fund for excellent works in French - La Scam.

Early this year, Sống won the Prix du Jury oecuménique de la BD 2024 (The Prize of the Ecumenical Jury) in France.

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