I drafted this post about the books about Hanoi and Vietnam that I am using as background research for my book two weeks ago, but since then, my blog has been under construction as I moved from WordPress.com to WordPress.org so I could have a bit more control over the design of my site. I still need to go in and fix the new theme, but it all appears to be working and huge shout out to WP Beginner who did all the hard work for free and were super helpful, even when I failed to follow their instructions and lost my email for a weekend! Anyway, I was determined to post this before the end of January – which means I have written one more post this month than I wrote in the whole of 2018.
Unfortunately the last two weeks have been really hot, which combined with no air conditioning has resulted in very little sleep and even less writing. I’ll post an update over the weekend on how I went with my 30 minutes a day of reading, writing, learning and moving but for now, I wanted to share some of the books about Hanoi and Vietnam that I’ll be using as I research my book set in Hanoi.
While my current focus is all about ‘getting the story down’, I have started to think about the research I will need to do in the future. I am lucky to be able to draw on my 3.5 years living in Hanoi, using my huge collection of photos and memories to imagine locations and scenes. I have also started to collect books that will help fill in some of the gaps.
Here is my current Vietnam/Hanoi reading pile. I have to admit I haven’t read all of them, but where possible, I’ve tried to include a link to a description about the book.
Fishing for Tigers – Emily Maguire
I loved this book and not just because I had the pleasure of spending an afternoon with Emily during her trip to Hanoi in 2012. I only wish I’d realised then that I wanted to be a writer. I loved this book because there was so much in it I could identify with as an expat in Hanoi and it’s always fabulous to read a book where you recognise the locations
Single White Female in Hanoi – Caroline Shine
I had forgotten about this until I was going back through my notes. This was a book recommended by Emily Maguire and sadly Shine died soon after finishing it. While I have set my book probably a decade after this, I have no doubt that many of Shine’s experiences as a single white female in Hanoi will apply to my character Sarah and now I have rediscovered this, I’m looking forward to reading it again – although just as my writing has done, I expect to encounter some homesickness reading it.
Give me my chocolate or the turtle dies – the tantrums and trials of expats in Vietnam – Brenda Schuster
This was another book I had forgotten but in trying to find a link, I found it listed to another author so I’m a little confused. Anyway, it will provide some good laughs about how silly us expats can look in Hanoi (and other places).
Hanoi, adieu – Mandaley Perkins
I read this first around 2006, and then again when I was in Vietnam. It is a memoir of the author’s step-father’s time in Vietnam from the mid-1930s and covers a period of huge unrest and unheaval throughout the country.
The Beauty of Humanity Movement – Camilla Gibb
Every time I look at the cover of this book, I am reminded of really enjoying it even though I had forgotten what it was about. But I was surprised when I reread the back cover blurb to see it is about a Vietnamese-American woman returning to Vietnam to search for her dissident father, being guided through the chaos of Hanoi by an old pho seller and a young Vietnamese man. I will definitely be re-reading this one again soon.
The Quiet American – Graham Greene
While this is perhaps one of the most famous books about Vietnam, my introduction to it came meeting an Australian woman and her husband on my first trip to Vietnam in 2003. She had worked on the soundtrack of the movie and had come to Vietnam to meet some of the people she had been working with. Again, it was one of those books that came to life after visiting Ho Chi Minh City, seeing the places much of the book was set and even staying in the hotels Graham Greene had stayed. The Graham Greene Suite at the Sofitel Hanoi Metropole was actually the first Australian Embassy back in the early 70s, and one of my first jobs when I arrived in Vietnam was working on the then Givernor-General Quentin Brice’s visit to Vietnam, during which she unveiled a plaque at the entry to the suite.
Wandering through Vietnamese Culture – Hữu Ngọc
I bought this book in Vietnam after seeing Emily Maguire recommend it. During my posting, I really wanted to learn more about Vietnam but juggling a full-time job and two small children meant my time for reading was fairly limited and at over 1200 pages, this is a fairly weighty tome. But it is filled with amazing Vietnamese culture and folklore, something I would like to inject into this story.
We were lucky to make some incredible friends in Hanoi including Andreas and his wife Tracey. Tracey was one of the first chef-trainers at the KOTO Hospitality school and went on to establish the Hanoi Cooking Centre. Together they have written three fantastic Vietnamese cookbooks. My Vietnam is a collection of Andreas’ columns written for a Vietnamese magazine and cover art, food, history and society. It’s a fantastic read, and also fun to recognise people and places from our time in Hanoi.
Paradise of the Blind – Duong Thu Huong
This was probably one of the first novels I read by a Vietnamese writer, although banned in Vietnam. This is one of the few books I have read based in Vietnam during the 80s, which is when my story starts, so I’ll definitely be going back to read it again.
The Penguin Modern History of Vietnam Christopher Goscha
I bought this book when I initially planned to write about our 3.5 years in Vietnam (with some reflections from my first visit in 2003). Like many of these potted history books that claim to be a single-volume history of a country, I suspect much of the value will be in the references.
Searching through my bookshelves and Kindle to find all of these books has been quite a fun exercise but for now, I am going to focus on letting my story unfold. While I will occasionally google something or look at a map, I know if I started researching now, I would only be distracted from writing but I would start to feel confined by what I am reading. The great thing about writing in Scrivener is being able to flag the sections that might need more research.
Writing about a place that is very special to me (in part because it was the first overseas country my boys lived in) definitely makes the whole process more enjoyable because it feels like I am visiting again, even though my character’s experience is so different to mine.
How do you choose the locations for your books? Are they places you have visited or lived?
Have you visited Vietnam or can you recommend any good books about Vietnam?