Special Guest Judge, Mike Fu
Vietnamese writer Nguyễn Thanh Hiện’s prose is expertly rendered in this English translation, which conveys the text’s beauty and violence with dazzling lucidity. A cascade of events and images guides the reader through “this poor skeleton of a village where sadness haunts and winds through the country roads” in urgent, breathless clauses. The psychic space of the countryside is by turns revelatory or banal, just as the shape of the text itself yawns open and clamps shut. Death and destruction are blasé, offered to the narrator and reader “with calm and gravitas, like a pebble at the bottom of a forest creek.” Histories of family, nation, and self entwine and burst out again in footnotes and half-remembered fables. The potency of technology and industry are inextricable from the wonder and terror of the wider world, stories of faraway lands insinuating themselves into the colonized imaginary. In spite of mundane miseries, Nguyễn’s writing thrums with life, or “the rhythm of being,” which is beautifully embodied in this English translation. Every phrase of every page is, simply put, pitch-perfect.
Mike Fu is a Tokyo-based writer, editor, and translator. His Chinese-English translation of Stories of the Sahara by Sanmao was named a Favorite Book of the Year by the Paris Review and shortlisted for the 2021 National Translation Award in Prose. He is currently a PhD candidate at Waseda University.