Longings: Contemporary Fiction by Vietnamese Women Writers

Translated by Quan Manh Ha and Quynh H. Vo
Publishing Date: March 2024

“These stories by Vietnamese women carry us into their unique lives and challenges now that the Vietnam War is over. In this collection of their voices, gathered from across the nation, one listens to their stories of love and loss. Reading them is much like sitting in a family courtyard in the evening and hearing a woman’s voice singing a family tale, all of it carried to us in English by careful translators.”

—John Balaban, translator of Ca Dao Việt Nam and Spring Essence: The Poetry of Hồ Xuân Hương

“Illustrating a vast range of female yearnings shackled by entrenched sexism, capitalism, geopolitics, and ecological instability, this anthology meticulously records gendered states of physical and metaphysical absence to voice a timeless, sobering argument: a society can call itself enlightened only when its treatment of women, who form a large segment of the human race, is considered universally just and equitable.”

—Thúy Đinh, bilingual critic and editor, Asymptote (journal) and Da Màu (magazine)

While mainstream Vietnamese history chronicles a few woman warriors of the past and some contemporary female activists, Vietnamese women always have performed their roles in the quiet shadows of men. To illuminate those shadows, Quan Manh Ha and Quynh H. Vo have brought into English the first anthology of its kind, featuring twenty-two contemporary stories written by Vietnamese women whose narratives make visible the multitudinous lives of Vietnamese women over the last two decades.

All the stories in Longings appear in English for the first time, inviting new readers to appreciate the “Longings” or aspirations of Vietnamese women as they have had to face suffering and struggle, hope and despair, sorrow and joy, while navigating an uncharted course through the social and economic waves that have lifted or lowered their lives since the US–Vietnam normalization in the mid-1990s.

The wife in Da Ngan’s “The Innermost Feelings of White Pillows” suppresses sexual frustration at her husband’s impotence by stuffing her pillows with new fibers. The rural women in Tran Thuy Mai’s “Green Plums” have no choice but to become prostitutes to earn a living. The mother in Pham Thi Phong Diep’s “Mother and Son” demonstrates an unconditional sacrifice and ineffable love for her adopted son despite his insolence and ingratitude. A woman in Nguyen Thi Chau Giang’s “Late Moon” violates all prescribed gender norms in order to live freely.

Longings brings together stories by both well-established and emerging Vietnamese writers, those who come from various regions in Vietnam and represent the diversity and richness in Vietnamese short fiction. This anthology expands the audience for deserving authors and broadens perspective on the heterogeneous voices, narrative styles, and thematic interests of women who contribute to the growing corpus of contemporary Vietnamese short fiction.

“Expertly translated, these wide-ranging stories invite us into the heart of communities who comprise today’s Vietnam, from north to south, from mountains to coast, from rainforest to town and city. An excellent introduction to contemporary Vietnamese fiction.”

—Timothy Allen, translator of Nguyễn Du’s The Song of Kiều

About the Authors

Quan Manh Ha is a professor of American Literature & Ethnic Studies at the University of Montana. His research interests include multiethnic US literature, Vietnam War literature, and literary translation. He is translator of Other Moons: Vietnamese Stories of the American War and Its Aftermath, Luminous Nights: Pioneering Vietnamese Short Stories, and, with Cab Tran, has translated Bảo Ninh’s Hanoi at Midnight: Stories (Texas Tech UP, 2023).

Quynh H. Vo is a professorial lecturer of Asia, Pacific, and Diaspora Studies at American University in Washington, DC, where she teaches and researches transnational Asian and Asian American literature and culture. As a bilingual writer and educator, Dr. Vo has published work in Vietnamese and English languages.