June 2022


“I don’t want to write about Thụy. I spend a lot of effort not to write about him. Writing to me is not an act of reminiscence. Nor is it an act of oblivion. Not until my last novel will I know why I write. Not until my last novel will I be able to understand him. My last novel will be dedicated to him. Thụy is a mystery. I have loved him as a mystery, the mystery to end all mysteries.”

First edition, 2005
2014 edition
2022 edition
French edition, 2009. Photo: Nguyễn An Lý

“Ten years later in Paris, I’ve come to know that I was but one of twenty thousand writers of the same generation, living in the same city, embarking on the same search for a publisher, the same quest for our own unique voice, preferably a voice louder than the rest. Ten years later in Paris, I’ve come to know that other authors had great artistic traditions to back them up, whereas those from Vietnam, Laos or Cambodia were only seen as representatives of the numerous wounds of war and poverty.”

June 2022

Translated by Nguyễn An Lý

The Métro shudders to a halt: an unattended bag has been found. For the narrator, a Vietnamese woman teaching in the Parisian suburbs, a fantastical interior monologue begins, looking back to her childhood in early ‘80s Hanoi, university studies in Leningrad, and the travails and ironies of life in France as an immigrant and single mother.

But most of all she thinks of Chinese-Vietnamese Thụy, who she married in the aftermath of the Sino-Vietnamese war, much to her parents’ disapproval, and whom she has not seen now for eleven years. The mystery around his disappearance feeds her memories, dreams and speculations, in which the idea of Saigon’s Chinatown looms large. There’s even a novel-in-progress, titled I’m Yellow, whose protagonist’s attempts to escape his circumstances mirror the author-narrator’s own.

Interspersed with extracts from I’m Yellow, the narrator’s book-length monologue is an attempt, at once desperate, ironic, and self-deprecating, to come to terms with the passions that haunts her.

(From the Tilted Axis Press website)

Read an excerpt on TANK Magazine // Listen to the author’s and Trà My Hickin’s reading on TANK TV.

Chinatown is a fever dream, a hallucination, a loop in time and life that Thuân masterfully deploys to capture the disorienting and debilitating effects of migration, racism, and a broken heart in both Vietnam and France. I was completely immersed in this spellbinding novel.”

— Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Story

Book trailer by Phương Anh

Thuận on Chinatown

“Rejected by Hanoi, the character Thuỵ boarded the train into Chợ Lớn to take refuge in Saigon’s overseas Chinese community. In naming the novel ‘Chinatown’, I wanted it to represent exile in the broadest sense of the word.”

“ ‘Only I could Come up with That’ ”: Interview by Phương Anh on Asymptote

In others’ words

“In the end it is a powerful narrative that will leave us unsure, uneasy, wondering whether it should go on.”

Thang Dao, diaCRITICS (review of the Vietnamese original)

Chinatown is a fever dream, a hallucination, a loop in time and life that Thuân masterfully deploys to capture the disorienting and debilitating effects of migration, racism, and a broken heart in both Vietnam and France. I was completely immersed in this spellbinding novel.”

Viet Thanh Nguyen

“Thuận, in her English-language debut, delivers a powerful examination of a woman’s remembering and forgetting. … This heralds a remarkable new voice.”

Publishers Weekly (★)

“Reading Chinatown is … potentially an exercise in negotiating identity politics inspired by the autobiographical elements that encapsule the essence of border-crossing.”

Ally Le, Mekong Review

“An ambitious experimental novel that succeeds in form and subject but is sometimes tedious to read.”

Kirkus Review

“The voice of Chinatown conveys bewildering levels of personal disorientation and cultural complexities even as it finely etches a sharp and most satisfying novel about loss and migration.”

Barbara Epler for TANK Magazine

“The layered stories here are incredibly effective. … You’re not expecting it when her memories and her desire deliver the real blow.”

Katie Yee, LitHub

“It’s a resonant work that brings together everything from geopolitics to fraught familial dynamics.”

Tobias Carroll, Words Without Borders

Chinatown is sad, yes, but it’s also a delightfully prickly and defiantly inscrutable act of resistance: against simple narratives, against our aversion to what we don’t understand, and against anything soullessly practical. It insists that we make space for the things that don’t make sense, most of all our absurd dreams and longings.”

Chelsea Leu, Astra.

“A story of displacement, and, ultimately, memory, in the great French Proustian literary tradition that Thuận cites as an influence.”

The Center for Fiction Book Recs

“Those who persist to the end will be rewarded with a powerful take on the immigrant’s tale that interrogates the intricate veil of history through which we endow our lives with meaning.”

Alice Stephens, Washington Independent Review of Books

“Making its English debut via Nguyễn An Lý’s incantatory translation, Chinatown’s generic title is deceptive, its compact length trapping layers of tensions to illustrate how political struggles in the public realm mirror emotional struggles in personal relationships.”

Thuy Dinh, Asymptote

“An astonishing work of sharp wit and profound tragedy that refuses to be flattened into a single representation.”

Lamorna Ash, Times Literary Supplement

“The book is drenched with intense longing and it has a Marguerite Durasian nouveau roman, no-nonsense kind of vibe. It made me dizzy and lovesick at once.”

Shane Anderson, Spike

Chinatown‘s text often seems to have refrains, like a ghazal or villanelle would. In many writers’ hands, this strategy could be deadening, but Thuận excels at creating momentum through language, and Nguyen An Lý translates that momentum beautifully. Chinatown exerts a near-tidal pull on the reader.”

Lily Meyer, NPR

“Aside from glimpses of a book that the narrator is writing, the novel unfolds in one unbroken paragraph, a virtuosic stream-of-consciousness mapping of the afterlives of diaspora.”

The New Yorker (Best Books of 2022)

“Novels about the immigrant experience aren’t renowned for mirth, so Chinatown’s sardonic facetiousness is refreshing.”

Houman Barekat, Tribune

Chinatown is a rich addition to conversations about migration, isolation, identity, drudgery and emotional endurance. It provides an important addition to Vietnamese works translated into English, particularly for its uncompromising structure and style.”

Paul Christiansen, Saigoneer

Chinatown is an interesting story told in a most interesting way.”

Bill McCloud, The VVA Veteran Book in Review II

“I also desire to find Vietnam and Vietnamese people in stories where they are not locked in the popular imaginary as a tourist getaway or a warzone, constantly haunted by and processing its relationship with the United States, when the experiences of the Vietnamese diaspora range globally. The voice, setting, and characters of Chinatown fulfilled that for me.”

Cathy Duong, diaCRITICS

“The novel feels like a tapestry of stories and you could almost feel a lifetime unfolding before you.”

Phương Anh, Gen Control Z

“[…] a writer’s writer, acutely aware of the accumulation and arrangement of the details that give life to her novel, and of the novel’s structure and its language, with repetitions of words, sentence structures, emotional states and images, all working with a rolling momentum as her narrator sits locked within her own constraints of a two-hour frame and an aesthetic that foregrounds the mysterious.”

Rick Henry, Asian Review of Books

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