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Asia

Vietnamese novelist in Berlin discusses 1980s

German readers have a wide choice when it comes to novels translated from English or French but not necessarily from Asian languages such as Vietnamese. The Dung's book, however, has made it to Germany’s bookshelves.

The Dung moved to Berlin in 1989

The Dung moved to Berlin in 1989

It is the 1980s. Tran Linh is a young, well-educated man who lives in a provincial town in Vietnam. He plans to move to Hanoi with his fiancée. However, not being a member of the ruling socialist party, he is unable to obtain a valid residence permit for the capital and encounters many obstacles. He does not have enough money to bribe the civil servants.

Tran Linh is not a real person. He is the main character of a novel by The Dung, a Vietnamese-born author who lives and works in Berlin. In Der Traum von Orly (The Dream of Orly), the author describes the various difficulties young intellectuals from Vietnam would have faced some 25 years ago.

"Young Vietnamese intellectuals didn’t have much choice when it came to going abroad. It was a question of fate whether they got permission to go to Russia, the GDR or Poland," The Dung told Deutsche Welle.

The German version of The Dream of Orly was published in March 2010

The German version of The Dream of Orly was published in March 2010

"My main protagonist has one goal," he explained. "He wants to live in Hanoi but unfortunately his situation is not very promising. That’s why he draws up a big plan. First, he has to go abroad. Orly is an address he has in mind. He needs to make a detour to pursue his dream."

Thousands of Vietnamese went to GDR in 1980s

To his disappointment, Tran Linh finds out that there is barely any chance of emigrating to France legally. He could, if he wanted, join the growing number of boat people who escape in small fishing vessels. However, he only wants to study abroad and then return to Hanoi and therefore he has to find a legal way of leaving the country.

The Dung's protagonist does not want to leave Vietnam illegally like the boat people

The Dung's protagonist does not want to leave Vietnam illegally like the boat people

One legal way of leaving the country is to go to the GDR, where during the 1980s thousands of Vietnamese were employed in the textile industry, numbering some 60,000 when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.

Many of them were forced to go home after German reunification but thousands stayed and today the Vietnamese community in Germany is about 85,000 strong.

Active on Berlin's literary scene

The Dung came to Germany in 1989 and now plays an active role in Berlin’s literary circles. He is also a member of the German section of the international writers’ association, the PEN club.

Thousands of Vietnamese stayed in Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall

Thousands of Vietnamese stayed in Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall

"Today, I write about the life of Vietnamese people in Germany, and I want to continue doing that. Sometimes I organize public readings with my friends here in Berlin."

At the end of The Dung's book, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the hero finally leaves Vietnam for Germany. He knows that there have been changes in the country he’s heading to but he cannot foresee what this means for his own destiny. The perfect cliffhanger!

Author: Thomas Voelkner
Editor: Grahame Lucas

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