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Last spring, I taught  Genaro Kỳ Lý Smith’s The Land Baron’s Sun: The Story of Lý Loc and His Seven Wives (2014) for the first time. In preparation, I conducted an interview with Smith about the book. (I interviewed him way back in 2015 as well. You can see that interview here.)  Since then, I have been planning to post that discussion here on the blog for teachers, students, and readers alike. Make sure to check back in next Tuesday for part II of my interview with Genaro Kỳ Lý Smith.

In “The Abduction of Chan,” I’ve been looking for info on half-breed (the soldier) and Chan being a Chinese servant. We’re individuals of Chinese descent slaves or paid servants? For the soldier, why was it important to purify his half-breed status? I’m assuming he was looked down upon because of it, but in the context of Vietnam after the fall of Saigon, why?

It’s like slaves in America. There are house negroes that want to align themselves with the dominant culture. Also, in history, when Japan occupied China, for instance, there were some Chinese who held high positions and enforced Japanese laws. They were still put in their place but they faired well because they worked for and carried out whatever the Japanese wanted them to do. Some of Bruce Lee’s movie touched on Chinese nationalism and anti-Japanese sentiments.

As for paid servants, that I don’t know.

So, Chan wants to be like Ly Loc. What about the half-breed soldier? Would he be like a “mulatto” in American context?

Yes. He wants to embrace the side that would benefit him. If not, he would be treated like the Amerasian kids who were known as dust children.

Yeah, I did find that in research. Thinking about reeducation camps, why don’t you  use trại học tập cải tạo? Why do you just use “reeducation” camp?
Yeah, and some call them cooperatives but they’re the same. Also, I wouldn’t know how to pronounce the Vietnamese words.
Some camps are more extreme than others like slavery in the Deep South was far worse than slavery in Maryland or Massachusetts or NY. The Deep South in America was dreaded most.
Was Mme Jolibois a real person? Is she representative of colonization along with her father? 
When I found out Ly Loc had 7 wives at the same time, I jokingly asked my mom if he had a French lover/girlfriend. My mom said, “I don’t know, but it wouldn’t surprise me.” That 1 sentence spurned 6 poems from page 35-49. I had been to all those places in Italy (1995) and Saigon/Hanoi (2002). I utilized what I remembered from those visits and created a love story. The love story was influenced by my own love life of being in taboo relationships. Yes, Jolibois and her father represent colonialism, but something raw and primal and thirst driven was the driving force behind this love story: the discovery of a new country for me was synonymous with discovering a new lover. It/she was new, foreign and that’s what draws us in. Jolibois was the last name of one of my former students, always loved the name, and knew I’d use it one day.
When describing Yen, Ly Loc, and others, you use “white” and “black” or “dark” when describing the Italians that Sophia and Jolibois cavort with. We’ve been talking about the use of language and descriptors in class because we just read Toni Morrison’s “Recititaf.” So, I was wondering if you are commenting on these terms here. 
My intentions on using black, white, dark was to show contrast on several levels. The dark skinned people showed the common person, the lower class, the peasant, the farmers, etc. and the white shows what we want to obtain but can’t. Yen represents ALL that is good and pure and virginal, which was once Vietnam before being colonized, and so during the marriage night when Ly Loc mentions her white unblemished skin, it correlates with Vietnam which was once pure and good but then it was tarnished because of French colonialism and 2 major wars against the French and the US. Also, it shows how Ly Loc wanted to retain or protect all that is pure from being tarnished but he knows he can’t. Reread “Dreaming of Yen.” His desire is not to “dirty” Yen or soil her in some way the way Vietnam has been spoiled or ruined. Hence, she becomes ruined like the country as seen in “Yen’s Interlude.”

You move back and forth from Christianity to a worldly type deity in Minh. You have Minh referred to as He (God) in a couple of poems. Elsewhere, it’s hard to tell if The He is Minh or a religious deity. I know they are interchanged to a certain extent. Is it supposed to be fluid? Why? 

Yes, it’s supposed to be fluid. The thing I learned is that everyone in Vietnam was called Uncle Ho’s Children, and so he was treated somewhat as a God figure. Like he created all of the them or at least had a hand in shaping, forming them into who he wanted them to be: loyalists, nationalists. In a Communist country like Cuba, Vietnam, China, or Russia, God is dead, and the ruler is “god” like. They couldn’t even practice their religion for a long time until some amendments were made or none at all.

I’ve been reading some about how the Europeans started in Vietnam, as missionaries. It’s interesting. I’m thinking about this of course with Jolibois and even with the poem about Ruston. How does religion serve as an act of colonization throughout the poems?

Bishop Desmond Tutu once said that when the whites came to Africa and gave us Bibles and preached the Gospel, we closed our eyes. When we opened them, the whites got the land, and we got God. We (the Africans) got the better deal. The idea is that clergymen, priests, ministers were sent beforehand with settlers and explorers to survey new continents, regions, but also proselytize the people, sort of make them docile, so that taking their land would be easier. Of course, we know through history that there was nothing easy about it. It happened in America with Catholic priests. Sure they were beheaded, but more were sent to appease or expose them to Europeans. It’s the idea of giving them something in order to take or dominate over them. And so Jolibois and her dad were an embodiment of colonialism, the idea of taming “others” and leaving them devastated or ruined or disappointed.


1 Comment on “Interview with Genaro Kỳ Lý Smith Part I

  1. Pingback: Interview with Genaro Kỳ Lý Smith Part II | Interminable Rambling

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