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This is part II of my interview with Genaro Kỳ Lý Smith about his book The Land Baron’s Sun. You can read the first part of the interview here.
In “Blind”the narrator speaks about the connotations that colors carry. Is there a connection here with Part I Of “The Shape of Things” when we see the seamstresses in relation to color?
“Blind” is a reflection of racism or discrimination. In Vietnam, it was easy for the Vietnamese to discriminate against the dust children because they were visibly different (half black, Hispanic, or white, and the other half, obviously, Vietnamese). This is no different from America where racism has always been rampant. What the grandfather is concerned about is his grandson not knowing why he’s being discriminated against, or that people should not be discriminated against due to their racial makeup, but it’s something he or the grandson cannot stop. Just because you are comprised of this “new” breed does not mean you are more accepted. “Yeah, I’m black, but not ‘fully’ black; therefore, you should accept me more than say a black person.” That’s not how it works. The seamstresses is a way of knowing how much to pay each worker, but it also records the difference in work ethics among the different races. This is apparent in my novel The Land South of the Clouds.
“A Museum of Trees” and “When God Sleeps” both talk about characters who are painters, in different ways. How does Jolibois see art? How do Viet and her husband view it? Or, if that is something that can’t be answered, what role does art play in each poem?
Art is something treasured and appreciated. We see the beauty in it being synonymous with the beauty in mme. Jolibois’ relationship with Ly loc. With Viet and her husband, it is still to be treasured but art is denounced and seen as a danger. In Cuba and china for instance, they burned instruments, paintings, busted up sculptures and burned books of poetry and novels. So in the aftermath of the Fall of Saigon, they don’t want to let go of what they cherish; they don’t want their talents to die but they’re in danger if it is known if they do art.
Is it protest too? Hanging them in the trees and making the only visible at night?
Yes. It’s a form of protest or defiance.
I know I asked you about the “Dust” imagery in the interview we did before, but I just caught the “Dust children” reference in “The Land of Dead Children.” How do you see Dust, and I would even say breathing, as symbols in the poems?
Dust is decay, so it symbolizes the death of democracy, freedom, livelihood, and this fruitful, bountiful life is stripped from Ly Loc and everyone. Dust children is a constant reminder of the wake the Americans, or the war, left behind. From the dust, something new is a created. We think of the Phoenix, which is beautiful and splendid in appearance, but the new creation in Vietnam doesn’t have to be beautiful. The new creation is a new government, cooperatives and reeducation camps, starvation, sharing homes with other families, not having the amenities and luxuries prior to the Fall of Saigon. They’re trying to create something beneficial for their own people now that they’ve ousted the Americans and the French before them, and the Chinese before them. But this new regime just makes the people pine for more or for what they’ve lost.
I’m asking about religion partly because in the Intermission you quote from Romans 10. Contextually, it looks like the Great Commission, and this is partly what lead me to the colonizing questions.
I’m new to religion. I was baptized 5 years ago at age 43. I started taking my girls to church 5 years ago to “give” or “introduce” them to religion the way my dad did. It didn’t take with me. I was an atheist from the age of 8-41. But something took hold of me when taking my girls to church. I started listening, really listening, and feeling, and things were coming to me with great clarity, so much so that I believe God was the one speaking to me during the 3 years it took me to write this book. Even beforehand when I was writing fiction, He’d tell me in my dreams what I needed to do, what I was doing wrong. I didn’t believe in Him then, but there was a voice telling me what I needed to do. It sounds crazy, but I ask you this: if He can talk to those in the Bible, provide them with visions, then why not me? The verse from Romans serves as irony and it’s to be poignant. But yeah, it’s to show that the good message isn’t so good for some people. It’s great for the Communists, but not for others.
Is “The Bone Orchard” akin to the valley of dry bones in Ezekiel?
“The Bone Orchard” was written for the novel 1st because Long-Vanh, the narrator, has dreams every time his mom receives letters from Vietnam. So any news he learns about forms his dreams. Hence, the whole God talking to me in my dreams. But no, it wasn’t inspired by Ezekiel, though I’ll have to read that. It was inspired by the film THE KILLING FIELDS about Dith Pran who survived the Cambodian camps under Pol Pot’s regime, the Kmer Rouge. That film has always stuck with me, and then to discover Dr. Haing S. Ngor who played Dith Pran also survived the killing fields. But there was this scene where Dith Pran’s character makes a secondary escape, or maybe it was his initial escape, and he falls into a hole and when he resurfaces, he finds himself surrounded by a vast field of bones. It ties into the idea of turning something (the country, government, livelihood) into dust and creating something new, and like I said, that newness is not always beautiful.