Two years with Debris

The cover of Debris of Debris

In order to tell the full story of a war, one must certainly include the aftermath of its destruction.

That is why “Debris of Debris”, the first Vietnamese authored English language novel written in Việt Nam by writer and journalist Vĩnh Quyền, is such a valuable contribution to Vietnamese history and literature:

As one of the main characters states “to survive the war is one thing, but to live happily in the post-war time is another.”

This book is the voice of the lost generation of young Vietnamese intellectuals picking up the “debris” of their lives and trying to start over immediately following the end of the Việt Nam war in 1975.

At the end of 2009, Vĩnh Quyền visited the US to introduce the first edition of “Debris of Debris” at the College of Saint Benedict, Minnesota.

The college’s publishing house printed a limited number of copies for in-house use.

The author then spent an additional two years making further revisions to the novel and looking for an English language editor and a publishing house that would be able to bring his work into the homes of readers throughout the world.

After reading through the manuscript, I came to the conclusion that “Debris of Debris” is a story not unique to Việt Nam, but is one that applies to any modern day post-war period.

The novel will have particular appeal to Americans that have experienced war firsthand, or are interested in learning more about the post-war hardships faced by American soldiers after the Việt Nam war because their experiences are surprisingly similar to those of the characters in “Debris of Debris”.

I also hope that younger generations and people who were fortunate enough to never have gone to war can get a sense of the extent to which war affects an individual’s life by reading Vĩnh Quyền’s story.

Readers will be exposed to the universal values of what it means to be young during times of hardship, to lose a love and to later reunite with them, to struggle with finding one’s identity after it has been stripped away, and to fight for a cause believed to be just even if it means risking one’s life.

So, that why I approved to edit “Debris of Debris.”

I did not know much about the book’s author when I began to work with him, but as time went by, I came to learn that Vĩnh Quyền holds a senior position at Lao Động newspaper, one of the most widely circulated newspapers in the country, has published hundreds of articles and short stories and more than a dozen novels, is a scholar of history and languages, and is well known and respected in the world of Vietnamese literature and journalism.

Over time, the editing process became a partnership between the author and myself and together, we were able to unite our two cultures by creating a story authentically Vietnamese yet fully accessible to a Western audience.

I also realized, however, that I had placed myself in a challenging position because, as a native English speaker in a foreign country like Việt Nam where English is neither the native language nor a widely used secondary language like in countries such as the Phillipines, India, or various European countries, I myself must often make the final decision in how an English text is arranged.

Could I have edited “Debris of Debris” if I had never lived in Việt Nam and did not understand the Vietnamese language?

Maybe, as limited firsthand experience of a country and its native language is not uncommon for editors of specialized and translated texts from around the world.

But, does living in Việt Nam and understanding the language at least give me an advantage in the editing process?

I believe that it certainly does, because a story, no matter how good it is, still faces the natural cross-cultural limitations of the linguistic and societal conditioning of its author; therefore, it is the editor’s role to understand the meaning that the author wishes to convey and to “translate” it by adjustments in both language as well as context, into a form that the target audience can relate to.

After three years of living in Việt Nam, studying the language, participating in the country’s literary culture by publishing short stories and articles in various newspapers, as well as and especially communicating with the author on a regular basis, I have developed a deeper understanding of the world in which the novel was created and can more easily grasp the author’s intentions behind his words.

I cannot help but feel mixed emotions about the end of this journey.

I am excited to review the newest edition of the book, which contains in it so many hours of my time sitting in my office twirling a pencil on the tips of my fingers as I try to think of the perfect word or phrase to express the author’s exact and subtle meaning, and I am anxious to hold the newest printed manuscript and to feel the weight of the paper in my hands.

But, on another level, I wish editing this novel would never end, for I cannot deny that the book has been a constant part of my life for two years now.




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