Uyen Nicole Duong: I wanted to capture the beauty of my home culture, and the sorrow of its women in the form of literary fiction.
Question: How did you come to write the book?
Uyen Nicole Duong: I’m not sure anyone--even the writer--can fully understand all the sources for a writer’s creative energy, but in the case of this book I know that several themes at work for me were the city of Hue, the River Huong, and the native people from Champa.
My mother, who is from Hue, has played an important part in my creative life since childhood. All Vietnam veterans who served in Vietnam, I imagine, would remember Hue and the battle there during the TET offensive in 1968. Hue was an imperial city, and represented the past glory of the independent Vietnam before French colonialism. Control of Hue was very important and one of the reasons why the battle in 1968 was so intense. I know many American veterans of the Vietnam War remember Hue. One time at a social gathering at a filmmaker’s home in California, I was introduced to a Vietnam vet and when he found out my mother came from Hue, all he wanted to talk about was the battle for the imperial city. In a way, this made me sad that my mother's hometown was associated only with the bloodshed of war in the minds of the American public. For that reason, I want to bring Hue and its motif into my novel.
The River Huong, commonly known among tourists as the Perfume River, is the landmark of Hue. It is associated with the beautiful and romantic women of Vietnam. It also has historic significance independent from the famous battle. One of the last Vietnamese monarchs, together with two mandarin strategists, plotted a revolt against the French protectorate government during his boat trips on the Perfume River. Of course, it was unsuccessful and the young king was exiled. Hue and its River Huong are also associated with the past kingdom of Champa, annexed into Vietnam as of the 15th century. I have always been interested in the indigenous peoples of Southeast Asia, including the Champa heritage. In 1991, a Vietnamese friend of mine, a psychologist who had studied Carl Jung, told me I looked more like a Cham woman than a Vietnamese. This gave me the idea to pursue a creative urge. I conceived the novel during the same year.Continue reading our Q& A with Uyen Nicole Duong
I call my L’Art Brut, "Subconscious Painting," because quite often, I start out not knowing what kind of images I want to create. I usually spend the first 20 minutes experimenting freely with strokes and colors, with no elaborate preparation or concentration. Quite often, after about 20 minutes of exploration, I begin to see a theme or an object emerge on the surface--it could be something that I have seen before, maybe just a vague recollection. I then focus on refining and developing that object or theme, or use my imagination to sketch a scene. Hence, many of my paintings are totally unplanned.
After I finished my first novel, Daughters of the River Huong, I found myself being drawn toward images that seemed to match the scenes I had imagined for my novel, but this recognition only came either after I had finished the artworks, or half way through the creative process. So, I decided to name these pieces after the motifs and characters of my novel--that was conscious. The beginning of the painting process was still very much subconscious.
In the subconscious process, I often found that when the images finally emerged, many times, very strangely, the line between East and West became blurred or the images of East and West were combined in my artworks, yet I could not explain why or how. I have to conclude that the subconscious mind works in incomprehensible ways. For example, in "the two faces of Eve the Vietnamese dancer," the image of a Vietnamese woman emerged, but somehow I could not resist the urge to have her wear a flamenco skirt, and no longer the traditional Vietnamese ao dai. --Uyen Nicole Duong
Click on thumbnails for larger images