The strange melancholy of autumn is setting in but as we bottled some elderberry wine and apple cider there is a sense of satisfaction mingled in to the mix. This is a new experiment for us, we are by no means experts and if the few bottles we made turn out less than perfect, so what? It was in this season changing frame of mind, embraced in a glow of unnecessary self satisfaction that I was happy to get an email from Neihtn author of Village Teacher. I was attracted to reading this book because it’s setting in French colonial Viet Nam. The history of Việt Nam was a mystery to me and this book promised to give me some insight.
About the author: “Neihtn is the pen name of a Vietnamese-American writer, Nguyễn Trọng Hiền, living in Princeton, NJ. He was born in North Việt Nam, but in 1954 followed his family to the South in the mass exodus following the division of the country into two parts. He went to college in the United States graduating with degrees in Engineering and in Industrial Administration from the University of Utah and Purdue University. At Utah, he wrote weekly columns and editorials for the campus newspaper.
After graduation in 1967, he went back to Việt Nam, became a college professor, wrote textbooks, got drafted and finally served as a young technocrat in the civilian government. He continued writing, in both Vietnamese and English, turning his focus to finance and economic development issues. In 1975, with the fall of South Việt Nam, he and his wife came to the United States as refugees. Since then he has worked mostly in Information Technology, with a solid reputation as a builder of systems and applications. Following several attempts to start a novel, in May 2012, after almost four years of evening and weekend writing, he finally completed Village Teacher.”
From the dust cover: “In the early days of French colonization of Viet Nam, a village teacher went to the capital to take part in the palace examinations. A chance encounter with a Vietnamese-French young woman led to a series of trials and tribulations set against the background of a crumbling monarchy and the awakening of national resistance against the new colonial regime.”
My Ebook review: while I was thinking of something smart to say about this lovely book, a sound bite if you will, I found myself thinking this is a harsh story told gently. There are many layers to this story and at each one there is a well developed character. Impressively there is an interwoven historical perspective that is educational as well as informative to the story.
This is not a short book, rather it is a gentle giant that captured me because of the feeling that one was embraced in a well researched, authentic experience. My normal reaction to books of this length is that they feel slow moving. This book eases along at a pace that feels just right.
Village Teacher has plenty of disturbing moments and themes and it is made all the more powerful by its true to life feel. The reverse is also true, there is love and there is the pleasure of discovery. It did what it said it should and I feel like I have scratched the surface of a fascinating culture.