Vietnam-born Uyen Nicole Duong has been a journalist, public education administrator, attorney, law professor, and a self-taught painter, in addition to being the author of the new historical novel, Daughters of the River Huong. Read on to learn more about Duong, her writing, and her art.
Question: What was your vision in writing Daughters of the River Huong?
Uyen Nicole Duong: I wanted to capture the beauty of my home culture, and the sorrow of its women in the form of literary fiction.
Question: How did you come to write the book?
Uyen Nicole Duong: I’m not sure anyone--even the writer--can fully understand all the sources for a writer’s creative energy, but in the case of this book I know that several themes at work for me were the city of Hue, the River Huong, and the native people from Champa.
My mother, who is from Hue, has played an important part in my creative life since childhood. All Vietnam veterans who served in Vietnam, I imagine, would remember Hue and the battle there during the TET offensive in 1968. Hue was an imperial city, and represented the past glory of the independent Vietnam before French colonialism. Control of Hue was very important and one of the reasons why the battle in 1968 was so intense. I know many American veterans of the Vietnam War remember Hue. One time at a social gathering at a filmmaker’s home in California, I was introduced to a Vietnam vet and when he found out my mother came from Hue, all he wanted to talk about was the battle for the imperial city. In a way, this made me sad that my mother's hometown was associated only with the bloodshed of war in the minds of the American public. For that reason, I want to bring Hue and its motif into my novel.
The River Huong, commonly known among tourists as the Perfume River, is the landmark of Hue. It is associated with the beautiful and romantic women of Vietnam. It also has historic significance independent from the famous battle. One of the last Vietnamese monarchs, together with two mandarin strategists, plotted a revolt against the French protectorate government during his boat trips on the Perfume River. Of course, it was unsuccessful and the young king was exiled. Hue and its River Huong are also associated with the past kingdom of Champa, annexed into Vietnam as of the 15th century. I have always been interested in the indigenous peoples of Southeast Asia, including the Champa heritage. In 1991, a Vietnamese friend of mine, a psychologist who had studied Carl Jung, told me I looked more like a Cham woman than a Vietnamese. This gave me the idea to pursue a creative urge. I conceived the novel during the same year.
Initially, the epic novel was called The Queen of Champa. Later, I also wrote a short story called "The Young Woman Who Practiced Singing," and a non-fiction piece called "The Coffins of Cinnamon." I then combined all three themes into one body of work, which I called the "Fall of South Vietnam series," consisting of 3 independent yet related novels. Daughters of the River Huong is the first of the three novels in this series. The other two novels, Mimi and Her Mirror, and Postcards from Nam will be published by AmazonEncore later this year.