By Dr. Trần Quang Minh
This is the first time I write an introduction to a book. Up to this point, I rarely write anything formal. A few years ago after my presentation at a Cornell University Symposium on the achievements of the Second Republic in the realm of land reform and agricultural development, in which I was one of the key players, people found my presentation based on personal experience so eye-opening and ear-popping that I was asked to write a chapter in the book entitled “VOICES FROM THE SECOND REPUBLIC OF VIETNAM (1967-1975)” detailing these four most important and successful programs of our rural social revolution that nobody mentioned at great length or in details in any of some 3,000 books on Vietnam or the Vietnam War that I was sweating for several months to gather facts for these 50 pages of Chapter 4. Like Anh Tran Van Giang, I can only write what I did or what I knew.
I must admit that formal coherent writing is not my forte. And so, you can understand the reluctance and trepidation I felt when Anh Tran Van Giang asked me to write the introduction to his coming book. I accepted only because I admired the man. I told him that if he does not mind I will have to write it in English. Here is the reason: I have an elementary Vietnamese education, a French high school education, and an American college education. So, Vietnamese, especially literary Vietnamese, is my least fluent language. This is somewhat odd to introduce a book written in Vietnamese. But since his writing was interspersed with English and the readers are bilingual, it's tolerable. And so, I will try my best.
On the other hand it is such a great honor and a real privilege that among several hundreds of his peers, Giang chose me to introduce this book. I did not ask him why he did that. Therefore, I surmise that the reasons for that request could very well be that he and I share many similarities: first and foremost, we both profess an uncompromising and ardent, vocal and unrepentant anticommunism; we both nurture a keen sense of and unconventional flair for humor; we both display a similar irreverential and exuberant outlook on life, not taking anything too seriously or sacrosanct; and of course, we both are blunt and outspoken about our opinions regardless of consequences. Diplomacy and political correctness are absent in our actions and assertions. We are that much and more.
Let me mention an anecdote that may give you some insight to my affirmation. A couple of years ago, after a pow wow in Orange County California - USA where I met again many colleagues that I had not seen for decades, I got a previous book from Giang. I was so engrossed in reading a hilarious story in the book while waiting to board my flight for Louisville at the boarding gate at the Dallas airport that I was totally oblivious of the boarding announcement. I was refraining from laughing out loud so hard that tears were pouring out uncontrollably of my eyes and nostrils. All of a sudden I heard my name being called out so loud and clear on the blaring loudspeaker system that I was brought back promptly to reality. The airline boarding guy must have seen my teary face to ask me understandably, "What happened? We have been waiting for you to board a good 10 minutes!" I said, "Sorry, I just learned that my dear Mom passed away and I was drowned in grief." Actually, she died 7 years earlier. He must have called the pilot to tell him about that because as I got in the fully loaded plane and moved towards my seat in the rear I could hear on the intercom, "The gentleman was late because he was distraught learning that his mom just passed on. Let's offer him our condolences." As I moved down the aisle I could see empathetic facial expression on every passenger's face. You must be a hard-core card-carrying communist if you do not feel empathy for someone obviously in distress for having just lost his beloved mother. The guy who sat next to me even moved to another vacant seat in the back to yield his seat to me so that I could lie down more comfortably for the long flight home. Isn't that something? So, I add one more thing to my long DON'T DO LIST: Don't read Giang's writing while waiting for boarding a flight.
Yes, Giang's writing is that funny. He has the knack to inject the kind of humor that provokes irresistible and uncontrollable laugh in you in every paragraph he wrote. He does that with the unusual way he looks at the current event, the ease at which he makes the relevant observations, the unorthodox manner he interprets a situation, and above all the masterful twisting and perverting of the Vietnamese language. No other language will allow you to do that and still makes sense much less makes it so funny. I seriously doubt that you could translate his writings without losing most of their inherent and deliberately fabricated humor that oozes out at every twist and turn.
Tran Van Giang's fact-based knowledge is vast and varied. Every field of human endeavors seems to interest him and he sees the funny side of things that nobody else can perceive. Politics, literature, news, culture, history, music, geography, science, medicine, psychology, attitude and behavior, trivial... are fair game for his hilarious moaning and groaning. He jumps from one field to another with the ease of a US Marine Corps recruit on an obstacles course. What a remarkable ability to be able to come up with such delightful gems!
Not all of his stories are funny though. Some of his stories are so poignant that draw empathetic tears from your eyes, anger from your heart, and compassion from the deepest recess of your soul. My heart was literally aching when I savor one story about an indomitable nationalist hero in a VC gulag that the inhuman commies could not break his spirit until his last breath. What a wonderful gift to be able to elicit such an overwhelming emotion in the reader of his story telling!
Giang also has the knack to use the strength and the logic of his argumentation or the wealth and length of his documentation to defuse, deflect, and derail any contention when he is lenient and even to dismantle, defeat, and destroy any assertion when he is in a combative mode. What a talent to possess in this trouble time!
Years ago when I was student at Jean Jacques Rousseau High School in Saigon – Vietnam, I ran into a quotation by a famous French writer by the name of George Sand that sticks with me to this day. She proclaimed that a book has always been for her an eloquent and quiet friend and comforter which she would not deplete quickly the resources and that she would keep for great occasions ("Un livre a toujours ete pour moi un ami et un consolateur eloquent et calm dont je ne voudrais pas epuiser vite les resources and que je voudrais guarder pour les grandes occasions"). And so, I always put Giang's books -- I have a complete collection of his books -- to good use “à la George Sand.” When my wife was clear-through-the-roof in her nagging--in her own words "to make a better person and/or husband" out of poor me--you could find me with one of his books reliving one or more of his episodes to tune out the negative vibes depending on how long my wife's lecture lasted. His humor is definitely a genuine nagging-busting instrument with high degree of effectiveness. Try it if you are in similar predicament as I am. You'll be glad you did.
Now, I don't want to spoil your enjoyment derived from reading his brain child by analyzing each of his specific stories in this book. And so, you must make these pleasurable discoveries and surprises all by your little self the very way that a wild mushroom hunter or a VC gulag internee found Reishi or termite mushrooms in the wood. There is nothing gained by being told beforehand.
Thiet Tinh !!! (That is a surprise, anger, and/or pain remark, and fairly equivalent to “Surreal !!!” in English - My favorite explanation from Giang).
Kentucky Colonel / Dr. Tran Quang Minh
April 03, 2015.