Novel Without A Name by Duong Thu Huong ~ My Thoughts on Defiance against Oppression   Leave a comment

Vietnam and its people were the “others”…right? Is this the reason for the title…kind of like an identity crisis?

Is it a portrayal of the destruction of the identity of the conquered to make them easier to govern?

Thank you, Duong Thu Huong for enlightening everyone on your book, “Novel without a name.” I believe through my research and knowledge, that little interest has been directed toward publishing your novel in Vietnam, could this reflect on how the Vietnamese War – Marxist society disagrees with the postcolonial theory. Could this explain the lack of postcolonial studies of this country and why your novel has never been allowed to publish within Vietnam?


            As I look through the lens of Postcolonial, this novel made me question the characters, motives and interactions within the circumstances that led to hybridity, new identities, divisions, borders (Eastern front, Western front, the strategic regions, A, B, C and X) and a break down within their society. Vietnam is comprised of fifty four different ethnic groups and the novel illustrates how hybridity was utilized to combine a multifaceted system created by the repressive influential configuration in the North Vietnamese postcolonial society.

The subcategories that hybridity seeped into were:

1) Racial, 2) Linguistic, 3) Cultural, 4) Religious, and 5) Diaspora  

1. Racial – Miss Hoa, Quan’s first love, became pregnant and was denounced by her people and it was possible that her child would have been born of a mixed race…someone from another native village, residence or district. “Last year, the village Party committee drafted her. Poor girl. By the end of the year, she was pregnant. No one wanted to claim the child. She refused to denounce the father. Shamed, her parents threw her out” (p. 139).

2. Linguistic – When Quan was heading to “Zone K” and met a young Van Kieu man named Te Chieng he asked, “How many miles off is it?” and the young man’s response was, “What’s a mile?” (p. 70).

            The shorter man on the freight train stated, “ ‘Comrade’ can mean many things. From a linguistic point of view, it’s a lie. From a historical point of view, it’s an adaptation. And from a practical angle, well, it’s just a leader’s trick” (p. 159).

3. Culture – While saying goodbye to his liaison, Quan took out a can of meat and stated, “This is the last one I’ve got left. You have it comrade.  The agent, “…scrutinized it like a connoisseur. “This is a real luxury for an ordinary soldier” (p. 34).

            Mr. Buu commented that, “They study their Marxism-Leninism, and then come and pillage our vegetable gardens and rice fields with Marx’s blessing. In the name of class struggle, they seduce other men’s women” (p. 133).

            A. Colonial subjects – The incident of soldiers shooting crates of medicine and Quan’s response, “This is medicine, energy food. The stuff they inject you with when you’re in the army hospital. His answer, “No Chief, you’ve got it wrong, Tuan shrieked. They …they injected me with Soviet medicine” (p. 270).

4. Religion – The little fat man stated, “Well? Did you see that? A nation of imbeciles. They need a religion to guide them and a whip to educate them” (p. 167).

5. Diaspora – Quan was caught in a personal and national identity crisis. Lye stated, “Otherness includes doubleness, both identity and difference, so that every other, every different than and excluded by is dialectically created and includes the values and meaning of the colonizing culture even as it rejects its power to define.”


The concept of violence is one that I don’t believe is new to the postcolonial concern. Within your novel the characters transform by changes in their status resulting in judging individuals in a different light. Zelia wrote, “ ‘Othering’: the process by which, through shifts in position, any given group can be ignored, trivialized, rendered invisible and unheard, perceived as inconsequential, de-authorized, “Other”, or threatening, while others are valorized” (Geever, 1990, p. 7).

            Quan had been invited to an elite group by Vu, “Ha, ha – your district is right next to mine! We’re from the same province. So shall we swear to eternal brotherhood in the peach garden? Our little club already has about twenty-three members, and that’s just in my division. You want to sign up?” (p.201).

            Quan and Kha shared a secret, they were both others in an army that had gone through withdrawing and reflecting, regrouping and rearming, all the while they were losing any sense of what the war was for and what they were fighting for, “I’ve thought a lot. I also listen to everything that’s said. You see, the people, they do exist from time to time, but they’re only a shadow. When they need rice, the people are the buffalo that pulls the plow. When they need soldiers, they cover the people with armor, put guns in the people’s hands. When is all is said and done, at the festivals, when it comes time for the banquets, they put the people on an alter, and feed them incense and ashes. But the real food, that’s always for them” (p. 275).


 It seemed that in your novel the colonial subjectivity laid the foundation for mimicry, those who were raised to believe without resistance. Such as Commander Dao Tien when he stated, “My generation, we joined the army as soon as we reached the age to do our patriotic duty” (p. 75).

Utopia of a National Identity

 The soldiers believed in a utopian society that would rise above the limitations imposed by boundaries, as was Quan, “This war was not simply another war against foreign aggression; it was also our chance for a resurrection. Vietnam had been chosen by History: After the war, our country would become humanity’s paradise. Our people would hold a rank apart. At last we would be respected, honored, revered. We believed this, so we turned away from those tears of weakness” (p. 31).



 Tyson stated, “To be unhomed is to feel not at home even in your own home because you are not at home with yourself: your cultural identity crisis has made you a psychosocial refugee, so to speak” (p.421) Quan reminisces of his childhood, mother, young friends, remembers songs, poems and his dreams as these are his only connection to the culture he holds close to his heart.” The combination of these mimics reflects his lost culture. “I dream: A radiant young man leads me through a field of roses. The sun rises. A few wisps of fog still chasing some crazy dream. The air is fragrant. Roses bloom, opening passionately all the way to the horizon. We walk silently, obstinately” (p. 153).

 “Quan The Impassive”


Huong, D. T. (1995). Novel without a name. New York: Penguin Group.

Lye, J. (1988). Some Issues in Postcolonial Theory. Retrieved December 9, 2009, from

Tyson, L. (2006). Critical Theory today. New York: Routledge.

Zelia, G. (2004). De-Scribing Hybridity in “Unspoiled Cyprus”: Postcolonial Tasks for the Theory of Education.  Comparative Education., 40 (2), 241-266.


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