Documentary filmmaker Nguyễn Thị Xuan Phượng. Photo sggp.org.vn
The memoir Ganh Ganh .... Gồng Gồng ... (Burden of Life) by female documentary filmmaker Nguyễn Thị Xuan Phượng won the best literary work at the HCM City Writers’ Association 2020 Awards last month.
Earlier, the work was also honoured by the Viet Nam Writer's Association Award. The 308-page book includes stories about the ups and downs of the life of the 92-year-old Phượng since 1945.
Her documentaries have won international and domestic awards such as the Silver Dove at Leipzig International Film Festival and Silver Lotus at Viet Nam National Film Festival.
Sai Gòn Giải Phóng (Liberated Sai Gòn) newspaper reporter Hồ Sơn interviews the veteran director about her work.
After the success of your documentaries, how did you feel when your memoir Ganh Ganh ... Gồng Gồng ... was honoured at both HCM City and Viet Nam awards?
I'm really moved to receive the awards from both associations. I remember my friends who are writers and poets. They work very hard. Meanwhile, I am not a member and I'm too old.
I think that the associations presented the awards for my book because it shows a deep sympathy for a woman's life in war time. This was also my feeling when I finished the book.
You have spoken about the first meeting with your mother after 40 years of participating in the resistance. Your mother asked: "Why did you follow them and separate our family?" Is your memoir an answer to your mother?
I left my family at the age of 16 because the country was divided along the 17th Parallel. So I met my mother when I was 60 years old.
My mother asked me that while all family members were having dinner. All of us were silent because we knew that this question must be not answered.
I found out that my mother did not understand the national resistance and her opinion was one-sided. That is why I wanted to write about my life. I want my mother to know that my decision to take part in the resistance in 1945 was necessary.
1945 is when we gained independence from France. If there were no people participating in the resistance, who would gain independence and how could the revolution be successful?
Furthermore, I also want to let young people in the country and abroad understand why the older generation had to engage in the resistance.
I want them to know that, in the early 20th century, there was such a struggle and we threw off the yoke of slavery, the yoke of French colonialism.
Is the memoir based on Áo Dai: Áo Dai, My War, My Country, My Viet Nam (Ao Dai: Du Couvent Des Oiseaux À La Jungle Du Viet Minh) which you published in French in 2001. Is there any difference between the two versions?
I wrote the memoir Ao Dai: Du Couvent Des Oiseaux À La Jungle Du Viet Minh for the French Plon Publishing House in 2001.
One year later, the memoir was published in New York. Last March, I began to write Ganh Ganh ... Gồng Gồng ... because of the COVID-19 pandemic with the encouragement of my children.
When I read for my secretary typing I had a chance to review my life. I feel sympathy for myself. Perhaps that is why it touches people.
When writing the memoir how did you feel?
Sometimes, I cried when I was writing because I saw my life was so bad with so many ups and downs. My feelings during writing this time was ten times stronger than the first time I wrote a memoir.
Looking back on my life after 92 years, I question whether I am going right when I have been suffering and going to the end.
If I go back to my family or agree to marry a doctor, my life may be much better.
The memoir won two big awards. Does this encourage you to write more?
If I'm in good health I will write a book about Vietnamese artists.
Another book I am thinking about is my documentary film making career. There are moving stories from that time. I meet my friends who are now old. It inspires me to write. — VNS
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