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“A haunting story of the Vietnam War.”
—Lon Kirschner

“God has given you one face, and you make yourself another.”
—William Shakespeare

Never in my life had I been to a university writing workshop where I would have learned the mechanics of writing. It made me think of auto mechanics. “There are three rules for the writing of a novel,” Somerset Maugham once said. “Unfortunately no one knows what they are.” I paid a day of my weekly salary to attend a literary seminar conducted by editors and authors from venerable publishing houses. “No one can teach you writing,” a host said from the podium. “You have to learn it yourself.” I went home and started my novel that night. I wrote in the wee hours, night after night, like a snail that sleepwalked, if snails ever slept. And dreamed of immortality. Every night I sat down to write, I chanted the Lotus Sutra, Were you with murderous intent, thrust within a fiery furnace. In between I would stroke a statuette of the Laughing Buddha carved out of jackfruit, burnished brown, on my desk.

The night I reached the end of my novel I leaned back in my chair, light-headed. Not empty. Grateful. I rubbed the Laughing Buddha’s shaved head, worn now to a soft sheen. It had been several years. Then in the room’s soft bluish light I heard a tiny voice, as if coming from the Laughing Buddha: Do you wish for immortality? No, I said. Feeling mortal and simple.

Who are you?

  Born in Hue, Vietnam

  Studied at Ohio University

  At work on self-healing

So you’re a writer?

I am an obscure, doubly obscure, novelist.” Just quoted Vladimir Nabokov. Except that he has an unpronounceable name.

Your own rules for writing fiction?

Rule number one: discipline—find that solitude so you can meet your characters. Then make that rendezvous with ghosts every day or every night with no excuses. Rule number two: write one scene well and that scene would breed the next scene. Rule number three: leave room for readers to participate. Rule number four: stop where you still have something to say. Rule number five: read each day to keep your mind off your own writing. Rule number six—don’t believe in any rules except yours.

Advice for your readers?

Don’t take anything you read seriously. When you do, when it really knocks you out, “you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it.” Don’t you love a reader like Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye?

“I have spread my dreams beneath your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”
—William Butler Yeats

“Ha’s prose is so clear and vivid, whether describing a dying soldier’s wounds or local flora and fauna, and his message is so powerfully understated that this beautifully written novel should have a place alongside the best fiction of the Vietnam War.”—Booklist (starred review)

Mrs. Rossi’s Dream shows the power of literary expression over even memorable cinema such as Francis Ford Coppola’s bloody Apocalypse Now (1979), a Vietnam update of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, or the blistering interview-based documentary series by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, The Vietnam War. Khanh Ha’s novel triumphs in doing what film cannot: creating scenes that rely on all the senses.”—Joan Baum (The Independent)

“Evocative, mysterious, and lovely, this is a remarkable book, for the beauty of the writing, the compassion for all the characters on any side.”—Judith Shepard, co-publisher and editor-in-chief of The Permanent Press

“I read Mrs. Rossi’s Dream with a sense of awe, that one novel could answer so many lingering questions we’ve had about the tragedy of the Vietnam war and the men and women who suffered so greatly on both sides.”—Dan Pope, author of Housebreaking, Simon and Schuster

“Khanh Ha’s Mrs. Rossi’s Dream is an elegiac, yet totally involving tale of retrieving one’s soul from the chaos of the past. The writing is crisply compelling, the story embracing, and the moral principles at the heart of the novel life-affirming.”—Chris Knopf, award winning novelist

“Richly sensory, gorgeously descriptive, harrowingly disturbing, and beautifully told, Khanh Ha’s Mrs. Rossi’s Dream brings to life a different side of Vietnam—not just the war (though this should surely be a must-read for anyone wanting to see the different sides of conflict), but also the aftermath of peace. . . . Khanh Ha’s novel is hauntingly real, embracing the reader with vivid detail and refusing to let go.”—Sheila’s Reviews

“Gritty and believable . . . Difficult to put down.”—Moon City Review

“A beautiful story about a mother’s love for her son and the lengths that she will go to in order to find him. . . . Khanh Ha’s descriptions of the Vietnam countryside were so achingly beautiful that I felt myself being swept away by this book. His realistic depictions of the war are heartbreaking and gut-wrenching. . . . I have to recommend this to anyone reading this review but make sure to clear time in your schedule as you won’t be able to put it down!”—Bookgirl86 (Goodreads)

“A spectacular story with an incredibly haunting narrative. . . . What a phenomenal novel. The use of setting and atmosphere made it seem almost other-worldly. There was a very peaceful and almost romantic sense of calm when the author was describing the landscape that made me feel really compelled to keep reading.”—Laura Lee (Christine’s Book Corner)

“The characters were all so fully realized and fleshed out that I felt as though I was having a real conversation with them as I read along. At times it was like I’d stepped into the book and was having tea or traveling through the dense jungle with them. . . . What a moving and thrilling novel this turned out to be! Definitely a five-star novel.”—Sol A. (Toot’s Book Reviews)

“It is a book about a group of characters who are tortured and influenced by the past in many ways. . . . I found this book to be a worthwhile and fascinating read and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a well written novel. . . . I don’t give out a 5-star review very often, but this book deserves that plus so much more.”—Nora S. (Bound4Escape Book Reviews)

“Poignant . . . I believe that this is the best he’s written so far and I will certainly look forward to reading his next book.”—Nancy Oakes (Reading Avidly)

“A book I cannot put down and I loved how the author invites us to the lives of the two main characters of the book, coupled with the love of a mother who relentlessly searches for the remains of her dead son. A five star for this book.”—Jasveena Prabhagaran (International Book Promotion)

“Never in my life have I read such a stunning portrayal of Vietnam. The countryside, the cities, the people, the culture, everything was so exquisitely portrayed in this novel that I found myself gasping at some of the descriptions.

Khanh Ha’s version of 1980’s and 1960’s Vietnam was a place that was both naturally beautiful and mercilessly gritty.

This novel is the kind of book that only comes around every once in a long while and the kind that you find yourself thinking about for years to come.”
—Betty B. (Mythical Books)

“You cannot understand the IndoChina War by reading American authors. You need to read Vietnamese authors who were there; and first and foremost: Mrs. Rossi’s Dream by Khanh Ha.

This novel—Mrs. Rossi’s Dream—is painful in its beauty and coverage. The reader is there, on the ground with the life and death of not just the Americans, but their Vietnamese allies and the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong troops. This is the most realistic and close to the bone recounting that I’ve read about the ground war in Vietnam.

Please, read it. We are farther away in time from the end of the Vietnam war than was the time from the beginning of WWI and the end of WWII.

Please do not forget us. Mrs. Rossi hasn’t.”
—D. F. Shafer

Mrs. Rossi’s Dream is filled with images of beauty and horror.
. . . The landscape and its inhabitants seem to inhabit a space beyond time, a space claimed by loss. The devastation wrecked on culture and individuals, rivers and sentient creatures of all kinds: it creates a density and tactility that connects present-day survivors with those lost in the past.

If pressed to suppose one motivation on the part of the author, in telling not only this story but those in his earlier novels, I would guess it is compassion which drives these words onto the page. In turn, these words on the page can incite compassion in attentive readers.”
—Marcie McCauley (Buried in Print)

“Khanh Ha has a literary style that is fresh and so nuanced. He takes a deep dive into his characters and subject. A Vietnamese American, he was a child in Vietnam when the war broke out. I think this experience adds to his style. He has a dreamylike quality that most likely comes from being a young child when he lived in Nam. There are common themes of loneliness, love, longing, compassion, and brutality in his books.

His writing is beautiful even when writing about brutality. . . . The characters haunt me and I just can’t stop thinking about them. . . . Mrs. Rossi’s Dream is a must read for both literary fiction lovers and readers who enjoy books that take place in Vietnam.”
—Teddy Rose Book Reviews

“A multi-layered story that leaves a lasting impression . . . Ha is one of the best writers in this genre and his novels always leave the reader with a great deal to think about—especially when it comes to American preconceptions about the Vietnam War. I never say “no” to reading Ha’s books, and this, his third, is the best yet.”—Serena M. Agusto-Cox (Savvy Verse & Wit)

“I think of America as my audience, and inside that space
are white people as well as people of color.”

—Claudia Rankine

Interviewed by John M. Gist,
Red Savina Review’s Editor-in-Chief

Khanh Ha’s short story, A Silent Lullaby, appeared in the inaugural issue of Red Savina Review in the winter of 2013. Our editorial staff was so impressed by the story that it unanimously voted to nominate Ha for a Pushcart Prize. Since then, Khanh Ha has gone on to win more awards, including the 2014 Robert Watson Literary Prize in Fiction by the Greensboro Review.

John M. Gist

Upon first reading A Silent Lullaby, I commented that the story “struck me as a modern-day mixture of Faulkner and Hemingway.” Can you talk about your early influences, those writers who may have prompted you to become a writer? In the same vein, why is it, in your mind, that so many choose to write creatively and then seek publication? It can be a very disappointing venture, filled with rejection and isolation.


You write because the urge to write has always been within you since you were a boy. There was no plan and there was no “why.” But to hone your technique in fiction, you need to study the writers you admire. I began studying English when I was a high school junior. I read Mark Twain, William Faulkner, William Saroyan, Ernest Hemingway, and wrote with their blended styles in my early stories. After my writerly voice matured, I no longer emulated them. Yet I owe much to them for their early influences.

Writing itself is self-discovery. It is creativity. Then comes the writer’s vanity. He wants to be read, praised, idolized. Falling short of this, he becomes depressed, self-destructive. If creativity is a luminescent spirit, formless, floating happily, vanity is a nectar the spirit first tastes and enjoys. Then his ethereal body becomes coarser and coarser because of the addiction, until the writer eventually loses his luminescence.

John M. Gist

What is it about language and imagination that sustains you as a writer?


The English language is cashmere to me as a writer, and, in William Faulkner’s The Bear, I found myself falling in love with the English language. His depiction of Lion, the great blue dog, is unparalleled in its sheer power of bringing an animal to life.

Imagination, though, is raw creativity without form, without substance, that ebbs and flows in your mind, leaving just sediment on its bottom until you can dredge it for fecund silt. Does language sustain imagination? Does imagination sustain language? I write from the deep well of my imagination about what I believe in, what I advocate, what I stand for, and I’m always drawn to books that speak to me in their beautiful language. It’s like looking at a woman who is both exquisite and alluring. That’s a writer’s sustenance.

John M. Gist

Are too many people writing and seeking publication? Is this even possible? Should there be more reading and less writing as a general rule?


It might seem, at first glance, that there are more and more people aspiring to literary writing, and less and less people wanting to read. But while writing is creative, reading is pleasure seeking. Our world is forever full of pleasure seekers and scanty of creators. That won’t ever change. It has always been that way. Like the colors of the white gulls and black ravens: their colors have not changed for thousands of years, and they will remain the same for thousands of years to come. Our world, however, is seeking quicker gratification―immediate and ephemeral. As such flash fiction is becoming the embodied form of this sort of quick, short-spanned gratification.

John M. Gist

Were you trained as a creative writer or did you teach yourself? What are your thoughts concerning the M.F.A. in Creative Writing? Do university writing workshops, in your mind, serve to homogenize American literature or diversify it?


I taught myself by learning from mistakes in my early years as a writer. I’m still learning every day when I read and write, because reading and writing nourish each other. But I did take up a creative writing class, as required, that lasted three months―not two years―during my senior year as a Journalism major. Journalism taught me how to be economical with words, how to write lean prose. Creative writing taught me the layers in fiction. And the voice. Lacking it is like a human without a soul. In that same vein, M.F.A. candidates learn the technique in fiction from those who have been credentialed with publishing successes. But, besides techniques and discipline, institutions work like the army. So the candidates tend to think like one another. So, out of a creative writing workshop, they tend to write like one another. They are afraid to deviate, to stray from the herd. They are programmed. You can spot this type of writing in many literary magazines, those run by the M.F.A. brain trusts.

In fact, how can a writer train himself? A serious writer trains himself by alertly watching what happens around him. He listens when people talk. He discerns the smells around him. He understands, never judging, because he is everything―being the Maker―when he writes. A creative writing workshop does not teach you this.

I agree with Hemingway when he said to George Plimpton, “Newspaper work will not harm a young writer and could help him if he gets out of it in time.” The only part I must add to this sentence in light of the literary homogeneity is this: “Newspaper work and M.F.A. programs . . .”

John M. Gist

With the above in mind, what are your thoughts concerning contemporary literature today, not only in America (although I do want to hear your views on that), but on the international scene as well?


Good, quality writing is always there. It’s like the air we breathe. Only when the air becomes polluted do we ask why. Who taints the air? Look around us. What we see is instant gratification―smartphones, video games, worldwide web. Our attention becomes more and more short-spanned; our tolerance gets more limited. Fifty years or so ago, we sought entertainment through books. We wrote letters―and mailed them! The need to express ourselves in words was perhaps the only available means to communicate. Is it still the same today? Of course, we won’t grow alarmed about the state of contemporary literature―here and elsewhere―if our love for the written words, the printed words, has not diminished. Or has it?

John M. Gist

What has been your experience with submitting to literary journals? What does the literary journal (many of which are housed in universities) scene reveal about the state of American Letters?


As a writer, I have this absolute conviction: 1) Your work must be quality work; 2) There are readers, editors who share your literary taste and style; 3) When your work finds these people, it will get published.

The fast growing number of literary journals in the United States reflects one thing: the counter-measure to the loathsome monolith of the U. S. publishing industry. That’s good news. The bad news is many of these journals are straightjackets, preventing original thinking and writing.


    The Demon Who Peddled Longing is more than a novel, more than the story of a boy and his journey into adulthood; it is a showpiece of modern literature, offering its readers a visually stunning experience, with the assistance of the author's impressive descriptive writing style. This is the kind of book that pays tribute to the reader instead of the author, kind of like the ones that gave birth to the theory of reading back in the 1960s, a poetic portrayal of a journey that peddles longing, bravery, tragedy, love, and most of all, the rite of passage into adulthood.

    “By making his book appeal to all types of readers, from philosophy lovers to fans of coming-of-age novels, Khanh Ha has created a magnum opus that will only be enhanced by the passing of years.”
    Readers’ Favorite

    “A lyrical masterpiece by a debut author. . . . A work that reads like a song, imagery is beautiful in this novel, and will have you picturing this world long after you put the book down.”—Seize the Moment


“A bit of fragrance always clings to the hand that gives you roses.”
—Chinese proverb

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