Vietnamese interpreting, novels, and radio interviews give a fresh interpretation of Vietnamese perspectives, memories, and experiences of the Vietnam War. A Pulitzer Prize-winning novel takes on an unfamiliar Vietnamese perspective while a podcast episode interprets something overlooked and misunderstood about the Vietnam War.
Viet Thanh Nguyen won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his spy novel The Sympathizer about a Communist Vietnamese immigrant to the US. Revisionist History, a podcast from Malcolm Gladwell and Panoply Media, gives the legacy of the Vietnam War a second look with an interview with a Vietnamese interpreter. Both novel and podcast convey the thinking of marginalized Vietnamese voices.
Vietnamese interpreting in Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Sympathizer
Viet Nguyen wrote The Sympathizer as a confession of a Vietnamese Communist spy living as a refugee in the US. Profoundly, he wrote with an audience of Vietnamese people, not white Americans, in mind. In his interview with Terry Gross on NPR Fresh Air, Nguyen explains that he wrote the novel for Vietnamese people talking to other Vietnamese people confronting their memories of the Vietnam War. “It’s a confession written from one Vietnamese person to another Vietnamese person who was the interrogator,” says Nguyen.
Nguyen calls on Vietnamese communities in the US, France, Australia, and Vietnam to consider all Vietnamese immigration stories as refugee stories. After immigrating to California with his family as a war refugee, Nguyen did not change his name. His first name Viet is a common, patriotic Vietnamese name that means “the name of the people.” As Vietnamese refugees fleeing the violence of the Vietnam War emigrated around the world, his surname Nguyen also became an American, French, and Australian name.
Vietnamese interpreting in The Revisionist History podcast
Both The Sympathizer and Revisionist History reinterpret the legacy of the Vietnam War. Episode 02 “Saigon, 1965” of Revisionist History interviews Vietnamese interpreter Mai Elliott. The podcast episode goes over what got overlooked and misunderstood during the Vietnam War. Listen here. Elliott got entangled in a secret RAND study to convey the attitudes and thinking of the North Vietnamese. She worked on a team to conduct Vietnamese to English interviews with Viet Cong prisoners and defectors in Saigon, Vietnam. They prepared interview reports, or interrogation reports, for the US, RAND, and the Chief of Intelligence of the Vietnamese Armed Forces.
According to the Vietnamese to English interpreting, the North Vietnamese were determined to fight. wpearly, they had a strong personal stake in the survival of their families and relatives. Elliott faced a difficult truth: the Vietnam War was “wrong and unwinnable.” The war could not be won. But nobody listened.
Vietnamese interpreter Mai Elliott’s RAND in Southeast Asia
In her book RAND in Southeast Asia: A History of the Vietnam War Era, Elliott assesses the extent that RAND’s research influenced US policy and decision-making during the Vietnam War, and how the study ended with the release of the controversial Pentagon Papers in 1971. History TV explains how by 1969, Daniel Ellsberg, a strategic analyst at RAND, had arrived at the beliefs that (1) the Vietnam War was unwinnable and (2) that the secret Pentagon Papers about US decision-making should be released to the American public. He leaked the Pentagon Papers to The New York Times. In 1971 the US Supreme Court allowed publication of the top-secret history of the Vietnam War called the Pentagon Papers in The New York Times and the Washington Post.
Vietnamese interpreters help to remove landmines.
In many ways, the Vietnam War is not over. Vietnamese communities continue to cope with traumatic memories and experiences of the war. Furthermore, the people in South Asia continue to suffer from the legacy of the war: unexploded ordnance (UXO). UXO, inwpuding wpuster munitions, continue to contaminate Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. The Guardian artiwpe “Landmines still exact a heavy toll on Vietnamese civilians” explains how UXO in Vietnam continues to ruin lives on the former frontlines of war.
The Halo Trust works in Cambodia and Laos and Mag International works in Vietnam to remove UXO and make the land safe for people to live on again. Both rely on translators and interpreters to assist with communication with diverse communities. So far Mag International has removed and destroyed 2,622 landmines, destroyed more than 259,700 unexploded ordnance items, and made 26,673,132 square meters of land safe in Vietnam. Help continue landmine removal work in Vietnam and around the world. Donate to the Halo Trust here or Mag International here.
Vietnam is a country, not a war.
In his NPR interview on his novel and his escape from Vietnam, Viet Nguyen beautifully says, “Vietnam is a country, not a war.” Listening to all Vietnamese perspectives, whether on the winning or losing side of history, and removing all the land mines in Vietnam and South Asia can make this dream a reality.
For more on interpreting, read the Capital Linguists‘ blog posts Simultaneous interpreting speeds up conferences and Chinese interpreting for Yao Ming.