January 21, 2011
From The Hydra Magazine:
Linh Dinh has written some of the most influential and widely-taught books of poetry and prose poetry, and his novel debut is equally groundbreaking. Love Like Hate paints an intimate picture of Vietnam before and after the Fall of Saigon, when the country reunited under communist rule. Dinh follows a family through two generations and traces the trajectory of a nation through the details of domestic circumstance. Hoang Long, captain in the ARVN and imprisoned patriarch of the family, comes from a wealthy landowning clan of South Vietnam. He marries Kim Lan, the daughter of a “wannabe Frenchman.” She eventually becomes the owner of a cafe called Paris by Night, and represents the resilience of the average Vietnamese citizen caught in the middle of a war they perhaps don’t quite understand. They are the transition generation: those who are forced to radically shift deeply ingrained ideologies and loyalties and consequently reemerge believing nothing. During the time Hoang Long is in reeducation camp, Kim Lan marries a Chinese-Vietnamese (more allegorical implications) who triumphs by ousting Hoang from his own home. Kim Lan’s two children represent the polemical divide in Vietnamese youth: the daughter embraces Western culture and elopes with a rich, well-read punk-rocker, and the son marries a submissive, uneducated fishmonger from the countryside. In the end, we are left wondering if the fate and future of Vietnam are nestled somewhere in between the two poles or if it rests with the daughter, who comes into adulthood with the last words of the novel: “The next day Hoa turned 18. THE END.” The bluntness of the statement leaves an unsettling peace, one detects perhaps a note of bitter resignation. On a stylistic note, Dinh proves the age-old mantra that poets often write better prose than prose-writers.