With Hong's father dead, his sister Aunt Tam rebuilds the fortunes of the family — now reclassified as "middle peasants" — and places her hopes for continuity on Hong. Meanwhile her mother attempts to support Uncle Chinh and his family who, though high-ranking party cadres, lead frugal lives. These competing forces end up pulling the family apart, alienating mother and daughter.
A kind of bildungsroman, Paradise of the Blind centres on Hong's growth through childhood and early adulthood and on her attempts to deal with the complexities of her family. Outside that it lacks a driving plot, but it is full of engaging incidents as well as evocative descriptions of life in a village and in a poor neighbourhood of Hanoi. And it is framed in a narrative set in the 1980s, which involves Hong, now a migrant worker in Russia, travelling thousands of kilometres to Moscow to visit Uncle Chinh.
As a fable it is somewhat simplistic, with the struggle between Uncle and Aunt representing the broader conflict between party and bourgeois values, but it gives us a glimpse of the tumultuous political history of Vietnam without ever letting that take precedence over the human story. (Duong Thu Huong herself was a party member and war hero, but became critical of the government and was expelled from the party in 1989, a year after the publication of Paradise of the Blind.) Paradise of the Blind is a slow-moving but satisfying story, weaving the threads of a life into a broader tapestry.
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