Nguyễn Tranh Chiếu’s self-published debut novel is based closely on his own life. Growing up as a buffalo boy in Huế, Việt Nam, he excelled in school and earned a full ride to study electrical engineering at the University of Rhode Island in the United States. After receiving his master’s degree, he returned to his war-torn country. With his intention to help rebuild Việt Nam, he decided to stay back even though his family had fled the country and South Vietnam had lost control of its power and territory.
After his long experience in the reeducation camp, he learned the painful truth about the Communist and had to flee the country by boat. His family, his wife in particular, had to pay a horrifying price for his decision not to leave with their extended family.
I am not sure why the book is written as a novel instead of a memoir when Mr. Chiếu is telling the story of his life. Could it be that he doesn’t want to reveal his emotion through his own narrative? In his prologue, after he learned that his two-month son had die while he was in the reeducation camp, he simply writes, “And that was that.” Later in the book, he mentioned the mysterious incident of his son’s death, but he also left it at that. It could be that Mr. Chiếu is a forward-thinking man who doesn’t dwell on the past.
Even with a bit of braggadocio, his story is incredible. His historical perspective is informing. His prose, however, is more like documenting than storytelling. Furthermore, a copyeditor would have polished up his grammar, punctuation, and wordiness.