Paradise of the Blind

by

Duong Thu Huong

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Paradise of the Blind Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Duong Thu Huong's Paradise of the Blind. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Duong Thu Huong

Duong Thu Huong was born in 1947 in the Thai Binh province in North Vietnam. She studied at the Vietnamese Ministry of Culture’s Arts College and volunteered to serve in a women’s youth brigade on the front lines of the Vietnam War, supporting the Communist Party. Duong spent the next seven years giving theatrical performances for the North Vietnamese troops, tending to the wounded, and burying the dead. She was one of three survivors of the 40 volunteers in the women’s youth brigade. After Vietnam’s reunification in 1975, Duong became increasingly critical of the Communist government, observing the conditions in South Vietnam compared with North Vietnam. She published her first book, Journey in Childhood, in 1985. Paradise of the Blind (1988) was her fourth novel. Soon after its publication, she was labeled as a “dissident writer” and was expelled from the Communist Party. She was then imprisoned in 1991 for remarks criticizing the Communist Party. Most of her fiction is now published outside Vietnam due to censorship within the country. After her imprisonment, she worked mostly as a translator in Vietnam to earn a living, while publishing her novels and stories abroad. She was then made a Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et Des Lettres by the French government in 1994. In 2005, she earned the PEN Award, which recognizes writers who have been persecuted for their work. Duong moved to Paris in 2006 and lives there currently.
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Historical Context of Paradise of the Blind

Paradise of the Blind takes place between the 1950s and 1980s in Vietnam. Vietnam was under the control of the French from the late 19th century until the 1950s. In 1945, communists and Vietnamese nationalists combined under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh, who declared Vietnam’s independence and ultimately won the guerilla war for independence in 1954. Vietnam was then divided along the 17th parallel: North Vietnam became a communist state, supported by the Soviet Union, and South Vietnam became a non-communist state, backed by the U.S. From 1953 to 1956, the North Vietnamese government undertook its land reform campaign, the effects of which are seen in Paradise of the Blind. Privately owned land was redistributed to over 1.5 million peasants. Tens of thousands of villagers were arrested and nearly 100,000 farmers were sent to forced labor camps by courts because they were viewed as being part of a higher landowning class. Only a year later, however, the North Vietnamese government recognized that the land reform movement had been a mistake and had caused widespread social unrest. The government then began a campaign to undo it, which was called the “Rectification of Errors.” People were sent home from labor camps and allowed to reclaim their land. (In Paradise of the Blind, it is by this campaign that Aunt Tam is able to recover her house and land.) Meanwhile, following their success against the French, the North Vietnamese then began a guerilla campaign to reunite North and South Vietnam. The United States provided financial support to the South Vietnamese, followed by military support in 1961. In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson sent even more American forces into South Vietnam, following an alleged attack on U.S. ships in the Gulf of Tonkin by North Vietnamese forces. The United States had committed over half a million troops to Vietnam by 1969 but could not defeat the Viet Cong forces. A cease-fire agreement was signed in 1973, and American forces withdrew. In 1975, North Vietnamese forces captured the South Vietnamese capital of Saigon. The country was then formally unified in 1976 as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Then, in the mid-1980s, a wave of change began to sweep over communist societies throughout the world, stimulated by President Mikhail Gorbachev’s policy in the Soviet Union of perestroika, or “openness,” and economic reform. Vietnam’s ties with the Soviet Union led to many Vietnamese people becoming “exported workers” in Russia, as Hang does in Paradise of the Blind. In 1986, the Vietnamese government adopted a policy of “renovation,” which included free market reforms and cultural liberalization.

Other Books Related to Paradise of the Blind

Other works by Vietnamese writers during the same time period include Pham Thi Hoai’s The Crystal Messenger and Bao Ninh’s The Sorrow of War—both of which, like Paradise of the Blind, have also been censored by the Vietnamese government. More recent literature that examines the toll of the Communist government in Vietnam includes Nguyen Phan Que Mai’s The Mountains Sing and Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Refugees and The Sympathizer. Duong has also written many other thematically similar books, including Novel without a Name, Memories of a Pure Spring, No Man’s Land, and Beyond Illusions.
Key Facts about Paradise of the Blind
  • Full Title: Paradise of the Blind
  • When Written: 1987-1988
  • Where Written: Vietnam
  • When Published: 1988
  • Literary Period: Modern Realism
  • Genre: Political Fiction
  • Setting: Hanoi, Vietnam; Moscow, Russia
  • Climax: Hang’s Aunt Tam dies and Hang decides to sell the family home.
  • Antagonist: Communism; Familial Duty; Uncle Chinh
  • Point of View: First Person

Extra Credit for Paradise of the Blind

A First. Paradise of the Blind was the first Vietnamese novel published in the United States in English.

Mixed Messages. In 1987, one year before the novel was published, the Communist Party encouraged writers to reassert their role as social critics. Ironically, Duong and other writers of the time were viewed as too frank and too widely read, and many of the authors who responded to this call were subsequently banned from publishing their books in Vietnam by the Communist Party.