Media Inquiries:

Martin Shepard, co-publisher

shepard@thepermanentpress.com

THE PERMANENT PRESS
4170 Noyac Road
Sag Harbor, NY 11963

631-725-1101

 

book

“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)

“Author Khanh Ha brings both the beauty and tragedy of Vietnam to life in this sensitive and realistic portrayal of what goes on in wartime. . . . Character development is the hinge on which this highly emotive plot rests. . . . a must-read for fans of emotive drama and personal narrative fiction.”—K.C. Finn (Readers’s Favorite)

“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

“Narrators Feodor Chin and Andrew Eiden are the perfect counterpoints for this Vietnam-era historical novel . . . Chin creates a raspy, Asian-accented English voice for Giang, which helps us picture the aged man he has become. Eiden makes the most of the mystery surrounding Nicola’s death and disappearance. Those who follow this period of history will enjoy learning about the personal nature of the conflict from these well-delivered performances.”—AudioFile

“Because through author Khanh Ha’s superb writing and excellence with the sense of environment, the sense of spirit(s), the listener is transported into a couple of living hells. . . . The details are mesmerizing, adding so much to the narrative, to the experiences of our characters. One is transported to a different country with new foods and smells. And one is most certainly transported to hellholes that seethe with fire and slaughter which, however senseless through the lens of history, is actually oh so necessary at the time.

Feodor Chin and Andrew Eiden, along with Ha’s deliberate pacing and marvelous development of characters as they grow and come together, and with an ending that’ll leave you stunned and weeping.”
—Audiobook Accomplice

“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


OVER A CARDBOARD SEA

It always came to me as an image, staying and never dying, until it blossomed into ideas for a novel.

I grew up in Hue, Vietnam, imbued with a culture full of magical realism. As a child, I had an indelible belief in animism. An unseen presence dwelling in an odd-looking rock by the roadside where people placed a bowl of rice grains and a stick of incense long gone cold. That child lived in Hue, the former ancient capital of Vietnam, living in its mysterious atmosphere, half real, half magic. I used to walk home under the shade of the Indian almond trees, the poon trees. At the base of these old trees, I would pass a shrine. If I went with my grandmother, she would push my head down. “Don't stare at it,” Grandmother said. “That’s disrespect to the genies.” Those anthropomorphic images sown in a child’s mind began to morph into fertile ideas when I became a teen and wrote out those childhood memories in short stories. But I was in love with the written words when I was much younger, between eight and nine, making up stories in chapbooks. In each of them was a make-believe world. It may be a paper moon sailing over a cardboard sea, but to me it was believable.

The image could be a man wearing a cangue on the way to an execution ground. This bandit was to be beheaded for his crime while the onlookers, some being his relatives with children, watched in muted fascination and horror. Gazing at the photograph, I imagined a boy—his son—who was witnessing the decapitation of his father by the hand of the executioner. I pictured him and his mother as they collected the body without the head which the government would display at the entrance of the village his father had looted. I thought what if the boy later set out to steal the head so he could give his father an honorable burial. What if he got his hand on the executioner’s sabre and used it to kill the man who betrayed his father for a large bounty. However, it really started with a story within my family. My grandfather was one of the last mandarins of the Hue Imperial Court, circa 1930. At that time the Vietnamese communists were coming into power. They condemned any person a traitor, who worked either for the French or the Hue Imperial Court. So my grandfather was a traitor in their eye. One day news came to him that a communist gathering was to be held in one of the remote villages from Hue. He set out to that village with his bodyguards to punish the communists. Unfortunately, news leaked out about his trip. He was ambushed on the road—his bodyguards were killed—and he was beheaded. The communists threw his body into a river. My grandmother hired a sorcerer to look for his headless body. Eventually, the sorcerer found it. They were able to identify his body based on the ivory name tablet in his tunic. My grandmother hired someone to make a fake head out of a coconut shell wrapped in gilded paper and buried my grandfather on the Ngu Binh Mountain. The beheading of Grandfather surfaced again while I was looking at the decapitation photograph. That was how it became an inspiration for my debut novel “Flesh” and I wrote about the decapitation scene in its first chapter.

Sometimes it came to me in the image of a girl dressed in the school’s uniform—white shirt and knee-high navy-blue skirt—standing under a tamarind tree outside her all-girl school. I’d ride home from school every day on a motorcycle and pass by her school. We’d steal glances at each other, and every day I’d count every traffic light before I reached her school. In the sound of traffic, the noises of which we both became familiar with, one passed by with a sidelong glance, and the other was left with nothing but a smile remembered. I wrote out that adolescent memory in “The Demon Who Peddled Longing” when the boy happened to run into the girl on the white horse, and I made the romance happen for them.

In both “Flesh” and “The Demon Who Peddled Longing,” my main characters set out as young men to avenge a family member’s death. This common dark thread began with a child’s memory. My late father was the chairman of an anti-communist, anti-dictatorial political party in Vietnam. His party, Dai Viet (Viet Nation-State), was pledged to the restoration of national prestige and the unification of the two nations. He was betrayed by a party member and was imprisoned by the First Republic of Vietnam for his anti-dictatorial stance. I often wondered what he would do if one day he were to meet his traitor face to face. So I put my protagonists in both “Flesh” and “The Demon Who Peddled Longing” through this predicament.

It could be an image of a xích lô—a Vietnamese pedicab—that passed by my house in Saigon and stopped when an American passenger got out. He was big and tall and the phu xích lô—the pedicab coolie—was all bones with toothpick legs. He was taking the fare from the American and before I knew it, he started coughing up gobs of blood. He reeled like he was dancing then fell flat on his back. The American chased his bill before the wind blew it away. The police came and pulled the coolie’s body to the curbside and put a poncho over him. After that it rained—monsoon rain. Lucky for him he wasn't washed away by the time his friends came to claim the body. The poor man had TB. I fictionalized that experience in one of my novels.

Then the war came to my hometown during the Tet Offensive.

At My Lai the American soldiers murdered the Vietnamese civilians; but during Tet in Hue, the Viet Cong massacred the Vietnamese—their own people. Here you heard only of My Lai. The American public was more interested in a war crime committed by one American infantry platoon than in the Hue massacre.

My father wasn’t home with us. The VC executed people like him. My mother kept the joss sticks burning on the altar every day and thanked the Buddha for sparing my father’s life. The VC came into Hue with the names of those they wanted to kill. Few were spared. They executed government officials, political party officials, block leaders, intellectuals, teachers, even priests, and monks. But they killed a lot of people out of personal hate and vendetta.

Every night we heard gunshots. Much later we found out that those were fired by the communists during their execution, and the playground of our high school was used as a mass grave. They massacred at least a few thousand people. It took people months to search, to dig the mass graves. Mass graves in the schoolyards, in the parks of the inner city. Mass graves in the jungle creek beds, in the coastal salt flats. People shot to death, clubbed to death with pick handles, buried alive with elbows tied behind them. The communists said they executed only the reactionaries, those who worked for the South Vietnam government. But I saw many bodies of women and children. Shot in the head, bashed in the head. Did they deserve to die?

After the VC withdrew from Hue, graves were identified, and folks came to dig for bodies. The odor from the rotten bodies hung for days over the neighborhood. Smelled like dead rats but with a fish stink. My mother burned incense in the house to kill that odor. Like many people who lived inside the Citadel, we had fled, seeking refuge somewhere else.

When we came back to our house inside the Citadel, one side of the house had caved in. It must have been hit by artillery shells or helicopter gunships. Ammunition shells were all over the yard. Do you know what I saw on one side of our chest of drawers? An inscription: Miami, FLA. Mom, Dad, and apple pie. The American troops had boarded down in our house during the house-to-house combat against the VC.

But it's always an image.

An image I came upon in an old Vietnamese magazine article written about a centenarian eunuch of the Imperial Court of Hue. He had died in 1968. The writer had interviewed the eunuch’s adopted daughter. At the end of the article was a small halftone photograph of her. The story had lodged deep in my brain. Months later I realized that it wasn’t the story that was haunting me―it was the face in the photograph. I pictured her. Dawn or dusk, you could see mottled-brown sandpipers running along the seashore, legs twinkling, looking for food. Twilight falling. I followed their tracks, like twiggy skeletons strewn across the marbled sand until they ended under the frothing waves. One delicate bird stood at the water’s edge and gave out a cry. I often think of her as that sandpiper standing at the edge of the sea, its cry lost in the sound of waves. Then her image grew and I wrote a novel about her.

It could be something else that would light up an image. Like a canal languidly flowing through the thick china fir grove that, from such a distance, was a mass of smoky green. In the grove’s dark shade, the air reeked of the pine cones’ scent and red squirrels and fox squirrels leaped from tree to tree. I remembered all that. Even the tiny chirps of crickets in the grass, the red wild strawberries like drops of blood in their patches, the late January wind damp to the bones coming from the sea.

Or when you are going down the foredune and there’s a tang of fish odor, a damp smell of kelp in the air. Fishing nets are piled up above the high-tide mark and beneath them lie the ocean litter of seaweed, soggy sticks, bits of crabs’ claws. High tide is coming in, tinkling softly through the orphaned seashells studding the sand. You stop when something scurries out from under the mass of wet nets. A rat. You follow its trail and see that the bad rat is out looking for birds’ eggs, those that nested above the high-tide line. A buoy clangs. A desolate sound guiding fishermen ashore.

Those images never go away and I wrote out short stories and brought them together into a novel. But the image that eventually blossomed into “Mrs. Rossi's Dream” came from a film in which a woman spirit medium in her trance-induced walk led an American woman to a grave where she found her son’s remains. By then I have lived in the United States for many years and in me lived on that image for many years more before I felt ready to put them down in words. While writing it, I felt like a baby trying to learn my way on this planet Earth, its fascinating habitats, its people who are a puzzling race full of vice, greed, violence and yet full of love and forgiveness.

On the morning I finished the first draft, I walked outside and stood on the doorstep and saw our flame tree covered in red. Then the cicadas began to sing.





Books


    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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