He omits a third association—reminiscence as a literary technique of remembering or remembering, most famously used in the first bite of Proust’s Madeleines. In Proust’s way, the narrator’s mind “moves not with the logic of the body, but with the illogicality of the dream,” and his attention is drawn to his life as a refugee imprisoned on Manus Island. The days of a human rights lawyer, then slipped into his memory of his grandfather being imprisoned in Chi Hoa, and on until the Cambridge library merged into Hanoi, Paris, Melbourne and Saigon.
Flattening feels ridiculous Anan Going into such details; it slides between generations, dialogues, speculations and stories, it’s not just a book about memory; instead, the novel’s circular form becomes a lesson of its own.
Some sentences are so lyrical that they take up almost a page before finding the end; some chapters are so precise that they barely exceed a page. As this set of fragments grows and falls apart at the same time, the text becomes most rewritten and archived, returning again and again to the question that plagues the novel—how does one take “the life of the mind” seriously? How does one ethically write about others, or submit oneself to the page? How can we find home—or, perhaps, how can we live a virtuous life in undivided land?
The text draws heavily from other writers and philosophers—Alexis Wright, Tran Duc Thao, Jacques Derrida, Simone Weil, Frantz Fanon—in the spirit of intellectual community, rejecting the notion of a single genius, and perhaps even ordinary narcissism , a critique often directed at writers of autobiographical fiction.
Of course, in a self-aware book, the narrator anticipates criticism: “Why don’t you just say what you mean? Why can’t you say it without quoting someone else?” , to maintain such an important cause. In the author’s note, Dao writes: “This novel talks to many traditions, borrows, remembers and forgets… It is impossible and not desirable to list all my sources: one of the concerns of this novel is how we deal with our heritage, literary or otherwise.”
near the end Anan, in a letter to his daughter, the narrator writes that the city of Hanoi is a swamp built on a lake—“it’s all pretty enough for a postcard, but it’s going to sink into a miasma.” So the water, with its perfect memory of spinning and levitating, is still trying to get back to its original position.
Anan It is a rigorous and generous book that will sit with you after reading it. “We can’t get ahead of ourselves,” the narrator says. “However, it is this promise of transcendence that brings us back to literature.” Anan is beyond.
Andre Dao was a guest at the Melbourne Writers Festival (mwf.com.au) and the Sydney Writers Festival (www.swf.org.au website). Leah Jing McIntosh is Threshold Magazine
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