Hilarious: Pham Thi Hoa’s “Nine Down Makes Ten,” in a Translation by Peter Zimoman

Self is reading — in between her regular reading, that is —  Another Kind of Paradise:  Short Stories from the New Asia-Pacific, edited by Trevor Carolan (Cheng & Tsui, 2010).  At the present time, self is reading about five different books simultaneously.

The first two short stories in Another Kind of Paradise were by Japanese writers.  The third story, “Nine Down Makes Ten,” is by the Vietnamese writer Pham Thi Hoai.  It is simply hilarious.

The paragraphs are very, very long — if not quite as long as a Jose Saramago paragraph.  The unnamed narrator proceeds to dissect the personalities of all her various lovers.  The woman is absolutely merciless.  What keeps the narrative from being out-and-out funny is the fact that the reader becomes acutely aware of how much time the narrator has sacrificed to be with each man, and how futile all her effort turns out to be.  Another thing that occurs to self is:  what kind of parents did these men have, and how did they manage to get away with cultivating this array of eccentric — even bizarre —  behavior?

Here’s the passage about Lover # 2:

The second man was frivolous and merry, an urban child who had yet to go through the period of spiritual crisis characteristic of civilized society.  He was crazy about music, from Beethoven to the Beatles, and possessed a good singing voice, but couldn’t bear to practice.  He also loved soccer and had a decent kicking foot but no concentration for workouts.  Generally speaking, he had no concentration for anything, not even love.  It’s difficult to trust such a man, since it’s never clear where the vectors of his personality are going.  He seemed on first impression someone tremendously frivolous, one who possessed rare and peculiar notions of life, often puzzling to those who met him.  His face was so natural it provoked suspicion, and I believed that under that wonderful skin lay hidden an extraordinary nature.  How else to explain the perfect harmony existing between him and his environment, a final symbol of his capacity to live so deeply and so freely?  But after only three sentences had been uttered from his lovely, smiling mouth, this first impression quickly evaporated.  He was one of a countless number of fortunate young men who live an unexamined life, not because of some conscious principle, but simply owing to circumstance — frivolity as a habit, as a way of life.  He was frivolous in all details, and only details concerned him.  His frivolity manifested itself in the care he took in striking a relaxed pose, and in the attention he devoted to celebrations, to feasting and to appearing knowledgeable; this all in the context of a larger existence that was not at all frivolous, but serious and substantial.  At a certain age, those as extroverted and unaffected as he sink into the cloudy chaos of life’s problems . . .

Do you see what self means, dear blog readers?  She’s only halfway into the story:  there is much more hilarity to come!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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