LE TU ANH
(Assoc. Prof. Dr., Hong Duc University)
In the risks that lead to ecological crisis, war is no more terrible than anything. The war not only broke the natural ecology but also created tremendous mental traumas and left heavy sequelae. Not only in social life, this issue has also been shown very clearly in literature. From an ecological criticism and traumatic theory, the article analyzes some modern Vietnamese literary works that reflect the topic of war, thereby hoping to bring more specific feelings about heavy sequelae that wars engendered in human life. Some theoretical issues related to ecological criticism are referenced from: Ecological Literature and Ecological Criticism Theory, Do Van Hieu translated from Contemporary ultramodern Western literature curriculum (Vuong Nhac Xuyen, 2008). Some issues related to traumatic theory I refer to the documents of Amos Golbberg (Golbberg, 2006) and Cathy Caruth (Caruth, 1991; Caruth, 1996). The works are analised here: Land (Ngoc Giao, 1950), The sorrow of war (Bao Ninh, 1990), And when the dust (Doan Minh Phuong, 2006).
Ecological environment is understood as the environment in which organisms are lived as themselves. In the universe, humans are the most complicated creatures. Beside natural life, people also have social life, inner life and spiritual life. Therefore, the ecological environment for people to live which includes not only natural conditions but also social, cultural and spiritual conditions, etc. Accordingly, the ecological risk of people not only natural disasters, environment pollution, noise pollution, food security and so on; but also unfavorable conditions for spiritual life. There are many ecological risks in human life, such as: changing living environment, war, separation, loss of family, being rejected/being abused, being deprived, being prohibited, etc. However, for a long time, the risks of natural ecology are still more concerned as the most important factor with decisive influences for human life. Therefore, the concept of “ecology” was proposed early on, but until the second half of the twentieth century, the era of ecology literature was officially formed.
Through researching of modern Vietnamese literature, we found that, from the beginning of the twentieth century, the cries of help for people urgently raised from the deep recognition of human core value and causes of ecological crisis that affects their lives. Among the causes leading to the ecological crisis of Vietnamese people in the twentieth century, war is the main cause, the root cause of many sufferings, many mental injuries are not easily eased. Therefore, the discourses about trauma, ecological crisis has appeared quite a lot. To clarify that, I analyze three works that we think are most representative as following.
2.1. Novel Land by Ngoc Giao
Novel Land was written in 1945, was published in Le song, Len duong, Cong toi and was printed by Cay thong publishing house in 1950. Land is one of the most essential novels of Ngoc Giao, is a fresh and deep discover of him about serfage, especially in war. The ecological context in this novel is the second invasion of French colonialism in our country. The central character of the novel is Xa Beo – a farmer who is diligent, devastating and loves land more than his own life. Xa Beo came from a poor place, thanks to hard work and effort to save, squeeze, and the support of his ancestor, only one year he bought a few acres of good fields, bought buffaloes, bamboo raft and buy a new garden. However, the joy had not been afforded, Xa Beo saw fire of war on his village. The scene made Xa Beo extremely terrified and painful. Immediately, Xa Beo imagined a future of destruction, all lives, from the bamboo shoots, the fresh vegetables and fruit gardens, to the dog, the buffalo, etc would die.
It can be seen that in the early pages of the novel, the author described Xa Beo with extremely painful emotion by many words such as “horrified”, “creepy”, “writhe”, “pasty faced”, “gape”, “walk reelingly to the ground”, etc. The pain of Xa Beo comes not only from the regret of the misfortune because the achievements of family through many years suddenly disappeared, but also the compassion for those living in a green and open environment suddenly shattered and died. The more Xa Beo cherish the life, the more painful he has to suffer from the risk of life being destroyed. In the theory of ecological criticism, that attitude is called “fair treatment of all lives”, under the category of “Ethics of respect life”.
But that is still not enough, the command to destroy the resistance and emigration is really a smasher. Xa Beo and Ly Cong and how many men in Nguyet Duc village were almost crazy when they had to demolish and destroy houses that had been built by their own efforts. In his choking throat, the sound of swirling in his burning mind, Xa Beo stood up like a madman: “Give it away, that’s all”. Ly Cong shouted: “Hey, I’m burning. hey, my wife, my wife, I burned my house here!” (Ngoc Giao, 1950, p.53-54), etc. Accordingly, it is known how many tears have subsided. How many cries of men, women, old people, young children, when choked, when sobbing, etc have taken up: Mrs. Xa “cried to swollen eyes, cried all night” (Ngoc Giao, 1950, p.51), “Mrs. Ly cried like a family with a funeral” (Ngoc Giao, 1950, p.57), “Ly Cong sat and looked at the fire on his house, his tears fell down to her cheeks” (Ngoc Giao, 1950, p.59), etc.
Destruction of life has led to a serious disruption of human habitat. Xa Beo after digesting has taken with his old mother, sick wife and baby look for refuges with hencoop, buffalo, some pots and blankets. In the huge movement with lots of tear, the husband and wife of Xa Beo have witnessed a scene of chaos and devastation that has never been seen before: “fallen trees, empty houses, dilepidated walls, uncompleted remove roofs”, “the groups of skedaddling people (even including the elderly and babies) go dispersedly with ragged raincoats, leaf hats as the ants run away when the flood coming” (Ngoc Giao, 1950, p.114). A feeling of helpless, lost and scare that imprinted on each footprint on another land and broke into a cry of homesickness, remembering the country sobbing in her heart: “He wants to cry, cry loudly for the sadness exile the land of visitors” (Ngoc Giao, 1950, p.164). But what makes Xa Beo most miserable is the nostalgia for land. Not only did Xa Beo remember the land, he imagined that the buffalo also craved land. Morever, his wife and children have abandoned the furrow, stubble ripe rice for long time.
For more than a year in forests and mountains, because of the disease, hunger and thirst and homesickness, Xa Beo’s family went back to their homeland. Returning to the village, Xa Beo witnessed a devastating scene: “The land of his husband and wife has turned into growing scrub and dislocating graves” (Ngoc Giao, 1950, p.356); then: “Stepping through the village’s gate, Xa Beo felt chilly because of the village’s desolation. He stood atonishedly staring at the wall of Hoi Dong’s house, where there were many rounds of bullets like holes” (Ngoc Giao, 1950, p.329). Life in occupied territory where people lack of living condition (both substance and spirit) because of guns and bullets, persecution, plundering, etc. That makes human life constantly being threatened. But because of love for land, because he wanted to stick with the land, Xa Beo was resigned to living in the grip. In the end, the buffalo – the animal that Xa Beo “lived for it like he wanted to live with his parents, his wife and his children” – was also robbed by the enemy soldiers, Xa Beo and his wife suffer a such pain to madness. Leaving the village again, but they could not give up farming, so his wife had to pull a plough instead of buffalo. Witnessing this scene, Xa Beo felt very painful but he could not cry because there is no tear.
From this novel it can be seen that war is a kind of cause of ecological disaster. War not only devastated natural ecology, but also seriously destroyed human mental ecology. Too many tears of Xa Beo and his wife have dropped. In other words, when reading the work, simply counting the cries of Xa Beo is enough to see how terrible the war has been on people’s lives. Xa Beo is more penetrating than anyone else’s suffering things the war has brought. This point was confirmed again in other works writing in this topic such as Village (Kim Lan, 1948). Characters like Xa Beo (Land), Mr. Hai (Village) know the depth of sorrow and misery brought on by wars. Therefore, the work warns people about an ecological morality: For the peaceful life of the living creatures, end all wars, especially destruction by bombs.
2.2. Novel The sorrow of war by Bao Ninh
The sorrow of war is a 1990 novel by Bao Ninh and becomes a phenomenon in literary life in Vietnam. The work has received many awards and is considered the “most emotional Vietnam War novel”. However, once this novel was banned from publishing. In 2005, the work reappeared by the Writers Association publisher with the name Destiny of Love. Currently, it is called by the original name: The sorrow of war. The work has been translated into many languages, praised in many countries and became the pride of Vietnamese literature.
The ecological context of The sorrow of war consists of an invasion of America after Indochina war and veterans’ life after the war. Therefore, Ngoc Giao’s novel only mentions the direct effects of ecological crisis, Bao Ninh’s novel also deals with heavy squelae after the terrible crisis.
Like in Ngoc Giao’s novel, war destroyed seriously human’s peaceful environement. At the age of seventeen, as a student, Kien had to give up school and say good bye to his girlfriend who had stayed with him for many years during his childhood to participate in the battle in South of Vietnam. At the moment of farewell, Kien felt deeply hurt in himself. However, that pain could be eased by time, the direct effects of bombs, battlefield really caused spiritual trauma. The spiritual trauma is too much to bear, so when the war ended, Kien became a stranger to everyone. To summarize definitions of trauma, Cathy Caruth (1991) said that: “In its most general definition, trauma describes an overwelming experience of sudden, or catastrophic events, in which the response to the event occurs in the often delayed, and uncontrolled repetitive occurrence of hullucinations and other intrusive phenomena” (p.181). Therefore, The sorrow of war is trully a discourse about trauma. Kien – a core character of the novel got trauma in the early steps on the way to the battlefield. In Thanh Hoa station, he witnessed a train being destroyed by boms and Phuong – his girl friend was raped by some bad men. After this unexpected accident, Miss Phuong changed her behavior and no longer belonged to Kien. After witnessing that dreadful scene, Kien shocked and felt extremely hopeless. Then, with that desperation he joined the battle and continued to suffer more times like this. Hence, the war just ended, Kien immediately had to face with combat himself. Although the war ended, Kien could not escape from obsession about things happened in the past. The images of war always prompt the feelings of pain, fear, desperation, nostalgia, etc, the traumatic experiences that he could not control, often happen again for the last of his life. Kien admited many times: “Oh my years, my era, my generation! All night my tears soacked in pillows” (Bao Ninh, 2005, p.51); “Returning after the war, until now, I have been suffered from the recollection to another one, day by day, night by night” (Bao Ninh, 2005, p.52), etc. The image of Goi Hon moor, the battle in dry season in 1969 where Battalion 27 was cleared out, the creepy myths, the most primitive, savage legends, etc that persist, cling persistently, overwhelming his mind. They always forced Kien to live with his past. Although Kien purposely tried to forget them, those all things still existed in his mind unconciously. Likewise, after the war ended, he returned as a writer, despite many attempts to find new directions, Kien still could not escape the “path” of writing about war as a default.
Thus, war, wherever and how, for Kien is still an impact that exceeds the threshold of the situation, creating mental shocks that are too much to bear. But right at the time of “injury”, Kien was unable to fully imagine its meaning. The wounds were quickly “suppressed” by the call of intense life longing. It was only when he left the war, after many efforts to reconcile and heal the unsuccessful wound, that Kien noticed all of the war’s monster face. Even the bitter destiny of love between him and Phuong – the most sorrow of war, Kien was only able to explain afterwards: “She is enchanted, unyielding and attractive, miraculously and incalculably beautiful, heartbreakingly beautiful, as beautiful as a traumatized beauty, as if a beauty was in danger, teetering on the edge” (Bao Ninh, 2005, p.294). According to the theory of Cathy Caruth, Kien is the typical type of traumatic character, the most condensed image of trauma in Vietnamese literature in the twentieth century. Perhaps therefore partly, The sorrow of war has been included in the American educational curriculum and is widely known by Americans as the only Vietnamese book about the Vietnam War (Nguyen Thanh Viet, 2017).
2.3. Novel And when the dust by Doan Minh Phuong
Doan Minh Phuong has many years living in Germany and now goes back between Vietnam and Germany. Novel And when the dust were first published in 2006 by Young Publishing House and received the prose prize of the Vietnam Writers Association in 2007.
The trauma that happened to An Mi (And when the dust) also started from a scene that crossed the threshold with circumstances. That is when a seven-year-old child was so frightened that he “nearly fainted” because in his arms hugged his mother’s body, in the air “bullets continued to roar in horror”. Running away from that horrifying scene as a survival instinct, An Mi (a young boy named An) left the three-year-old girl with a weak cry for help, which immediately sank in her mind. distracted by a memory too immature. Also by a young brain, at that time, An Mi completely did not understand the meaning of this “escape” action. A new life in a distant/alien country makes An Mi’s memories sink deep into memories. Becoming an adopted child of a German family, An Mi found her home. In the love of the adoptive parents, especially the foster father, six years later, the ragged orphan became a young woman with thick, silky hair, “the body drags the heaving and unpredictable lines. and expertly” (Doan Minh Phuong, 2007, p.93). Then one day, the adoptive father shot himself in the church. In the eyes of her adoptive mother, An Mi was the culprit: “She accused me and forced me to admit it, fiercely as if as long as the sin was clearly delineated, the consequence would be erased completely” (Doan Minh Phuong, 2007, p.93). Not only losing “the most important love in life”, to erase sin, An Mi at the same time erase all pleasant memories. But the “fatal” blow that pushed An Mi to find death was the sudden departure of her husband for a traffic accident: “After carrying everything, it might remind me that he was once in this world, resolutely taking the irony promise that I will forget him, that forgetting will be complete, I suddenly realized that I would die with him” (Doan Minh Phuong, 2007, p.11). Because “if I live in a sad memory, I will live as a melancholy ghost”, and: “As a ghost, I have lived outside my life, living and erasing days and memories” (Doan Minh Phuong, 2007, p.25). However, a deep sense of self-acceptance did not allow An Mi to know who she was before finding death. On the journey to find the essence, An Mi had found himself in the unfortunate life of Michael – who spent the night at the hotel – through his strange diary, in Marcus’s life – a seven-yearold child with very severe PTSD. But ending the journey more than two years of searching hard, An Mi still could not erase the feeling of insecurity, the mental pain transformed into physical pain: “My whole body was uneasy, my intestines were tight, I felt cold and nauseous. I felt pain, no longer the pain in my heart but on my body, when my mind was dull without any thought” (Doan Minh Phuong, 2007, p.16). At the edge of the death, distant memories returned, telling An Mi that she was an orphan from a war-torn country.
Thus, with An Mi, war is also the first, too intense and fierce impact, creating heavy psychological shocks. But the experience of injury in this case is not the fear, pain, pain that gnawed after the “incubation” period in oblivion, but “metastasized” into a sense of lost and lost rhythm, lack of homeland. On a permanent basis, An Mi always feels that she has been turned off her roots, not knowing the source. Existential question “Who am I?” also resounded from that feeling. In the adventurous life without love, An Mi sometimes thought she had found her ties with life. The first time was a foster father who loved her “like a real girl”. The second time was the husband whose death caused An Mi to immediately think of a death for himself. But the strings were cut off in turn: The adoptive father committed suicide in the church without a farewell, the husband abruptly left because of a traffic accident. An Mi’s increasingly intense tension kept An Mi constantly living in constant, insidious, persistent pain. Suppressing the wound with the act of deliberately erasing memory, An Mi falls into a state of unevenness between perceptions and unconsciousness, awareness and ambiguity. Only in the hours when he was about to leave his life, the being was awakened, An Mi heard from a region of memories far away from the help of his threeyear-old brother in awe, panic of war bombs. At the time of knowing the “unprecedented” thing, An Mi also understood that it was something she “never forgot” that is the motherhood, the love of the homeland.
Thus, although not directly referring to the topic of war as Bao Ninh’s work, but with what Doan Minh Phuong expressed in And when the dust could see war always causes very serious sequelae in human life. Feeling of the fate of the exile (diaspora) of An Mi during the rest of life is a kind of sequelae not easily seen. But that is the common mind of the Vietnamese refugee community in many countries, especially in the US, since the end of the Vietnam War even though the reason for leaving their country is not entirely the same. In the context that few people on the other side (Americans) want to understand more about the Vietnamese language and experience to fully understand the Vietnam War, many works of Vietnamese and Vietnamese Americans say about the psychological trauma caused by the war was born “as a corrective to this ignorance” (Nguyen Thanh Viet, 2017). Unfortunately, most of them have not yet been translated into Vietnamese so that they can come closer to domestic readers like And when the dust.
Through the above works, it can be seen that war is always the root cause of dangerous ecological crisis to human life, which includes natural ecology and social ecology. Thus, war is also the root cause of many psychological trauma that depend up on its expression. If Its expression is at low level, there is a cry; if it is higher, the squelae become worse in which people are no longer themselves or don’t know who they are. During nearly a century of suffering and undergoing national defense wars, the country and Vietnamese people suffered very heavy losses. The above war works not only save the painful times of Vietnamese national history, but also always present as sad reminders that are strict for all: that for life of creatures, especially for life of human, please end/give up all wars.
1. Bao Ninh. (2005). The sorrow of war. (reprinted). Hanoi: Association of Writers Publishing House.
2. Caruth, C. (1991). “Unclaimed experience: Trauma and the Possibility of History”. Yale French Studies, (79), 181-192. Accessed at
3. Caruth, C. (1996). Unclaimed experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History. Baltimore &
London: The John Hopkins University Press.
4. Doan Minh Phuong. (2007). And when the dust. (the 1st reprinted). Hanoi: Youth Publishing House.
5. Goldberg, A. (2006). “Trauma, Narrative and Two Forms of Death”. Literature and Medicine 25, (1), 122-141. Accessed at https://muse.jhu.edu/article/202366
6. Kim Lan. (2002). Village. (reprinted). Hanoi: Kim Dong Publishing House.
7. Ngoc Giao. (1950). Land. Hanoi: Cay Thong Publishing House.
8. Nguyen Thanh Viet. (2017). “The Great Vietnam War Novel Was Not Written by an American”. Accessed at https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/02/opinion/vietnam-war-novelwas-not-written-by-an-american.html
9. Vuong Nhac Xuyen. (2008). “Ecological literature and Theory of ecological criticism”. (Translated by Do Van Hieu). Contemporary Ultramodern Western Literature Curriculum. Shanghai: Phuc Dan University Publishing House. Accessed at http://www.dovanhieu.net/2015/08/van-hoc-sinh-thai-va-li-luan-phe-binh.html
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