FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Red Capitalism in Vietnam

by CHARLES LARSON

A couple of years ago when I spend some time in Vietnam, I was struck by the country’s virulent form of capitalism. Consumer goods were stacked up everywhere; the people seemed prosperous; the streets were clean and pretty much free of trash; moreover, everyone seemed to be selling something. The expected anger toward Americans was non-existent; a partial explanation from our guide was that more than half of the population was born after the American pull-out from the country in 1975. The Vietnam war (which the Vietnamese refer to as the “American” war) is not in their memories.

Linh Dinh’s novel, Love Like Hate, confirms everything I have just said and takes these remarks several stages further. Several disparate sentences from the first two paragraphs put the entire transformation into context: “Saigon lost its identity in 1975, but by the early nineties had regained much of it back.” “A hodgepodge of incoherence, Saigon thrives on pastiche. Sly, crass and frankly infatuated with all things foreign, it caricatures everyone yet proclaims itself original.” “The worst thing about Communism is not that it stops you from thinking or writing poetry, the worst thing about it is that it can stop you from eating altogether.”

Yes, Saigon is different from the cities in the North, more Western, of course, and more in-your-face, and Dinh confesses to a Dark Age between the years of 1975 to 1986. Vast numbers of people went sent to re-education camps, food shortages were frequent but once petty capitalism was permitted in 1986, everything took off at roller-coaster speed. One of the people to benefit was Kim Lan, who opened a restaurant in Saigon that year which she named “Paris by Night,” and it wasn’t long before she was filthy rich. Her greatest joy is to indulge her daughter, Hao, with luxuries. By the time Hao is fifteen, she has her own Wave motorbike, and she looks “like an actress in a Hong Kong movie. She had learned how to put on lipstick, eye shadow, mascara, shimmer, blush, rouge, greasepaint, lip gloss, pomade and pancake.”

“When she opened her mouth, a dozen English phrases sputtered out, gleaned from Madonna and Britney Spears CDs. Every inch of her was brand named—CK, Revlon, Polo, Levi’s, Adidas—albeit much of it was fake. She was rarely seen without a baseball cap from her huge collection. She bought them compulsively because they were so cool and so American.” In short, Hao is such a “fake” American that her mother will accept nothing less than another fake American as her daughter’s husband.

There’s a Vietnamese term for Vietnamese Americans, those who fled the country at the end of the war, went to the United States, and became fabulously rich: Viet Kieus. Kim Lan is determined that Hao will marry a Viet Kieu. That goal becomes the central conflict in Dinh’s clever story—its elaborate plotting and structure, looping back to the last years of the war and then as far ahead as the time immediately following 9/11. Of that disaster—observed on TV–one of Dinh’s characters observes, “Even your disasters are like Hollywood.”

The fact is that the major tone of the novel is the author’s healthy irreverence—for virtually all his characters, their activities, their country and, of course, for the United States. He questions Vietnamese Buddhism: “The average Vietnamese…had no idea whom he was praying to.” In their rush towards materialism and their value of everything American, he states that Vietnamese “Thought of America as a vast shopping mall to be envied and emulated.” Of the English language, he notes, “By cajoling the rest of the world into learning English, Americans are begging for their own death,” since the result is that everyone in the rest of the world wants to immigrate to the United States.

Perhaps the rampant commercialism in the country is best demonstrated by a minor incident involving a Vietnamese businessman who is conflicted by what he has observed over the years as the country has been transformed: “He had never known there could be so much capitalist exploitation in a supposedly socialist society. It amazed him that many Vietnamese had to work for a dollar a day to make $140 sneakers to be lusted after, and sometimes even bought, by other Vietnamese. If a worker wanted to buy a pair of Nikes he had just sewn, he would have to wait for half a year and not eat at all during that time.” (223)

The title, Love Like Hate, refers to a Vietnamese punk rock group but as much as anything it defines almost all of the major relationships in this revealing novel and, of course, the Vietnamese infatuation with all things American. Linh Dinh is a gifted writer, his talent visible on every page of his dazzling story.

Love Like Hate
By Linh Dinh
Seven Stories Press, 240 pp., $16.95

Charles R. Larson is Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C.

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C. Email = clarson@american.edu. Twitter @LarsonChuck.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
August 26, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Paul Buhle
In the Shadow of the CIA: Liberalism’s Big Embarrassing Moment
Andrew Levine
How Donald Trump Can Still be a Hero: Force the Guardians of the Duopoly to Open Up the Debates
Rob Urie
Crisis and Opportunity
Louisa Willcox
The Unbearable Killing of Yellowstone’s Grizzlies: 2015 Shatters Records for Bear Deaths
Charles Pierson
Wedding Crashers Who Kill
Richard Moser
What is the Inside/Outside Strategy?
Dirk Bezemer – Michael Hudson
Finance is Not the Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Bernie’s Used Cars
Margaret Kimberley
Hillary and Colin: the War Criminal Charade
Patrick Cockburn
Turkey’s Foray into Syria: a Gamble in a Very Dangerous Game
Ishmael Reed
Birther Tries to Flim Flam Blacks  
Brian Terrell
What Makes a Hate Group?
Howard Lisnoff
Trouble in Political Paradise
Terry Tempest Williams
Will Our National Parks Survive the Next 100 Years?
Ben Debney
The Swimsuit that Overthrew the State
Ashley Smith
Anti-imperialism and the Syrian Revolution
Andrew Stewart
Did Gore Throw the 2000 Election?
Vincent Navarro
Is the Nation State and Its Welfare State Dead? a Critique of Varoufakis
John Wight
Syria’s Kurds and the Wages of Treachery
Lawrence Davidson
The New Anti-Semitism: the Case of Joy Karega
Mateo Pimentel
The Affordable Care Act: A Litmus Test for American Capitalism?
Roger Annis
In Northern Syria, Turkey Opens New Front in its War Against the Kurds
David Swanson
ABC Shifts Blame from US Wars to Doctors Without Borders
Norman Pollack
American Exceptionalism: A Pernicious Doctrine
Ralph Nader
Readers Think, Thinkers Read
Julia Morris
The Mythologies of the Nauruan Refugee Nation
George Wuerthner
Caving to Ranchers: the Misguided Decision to Kill the Profanity Wolf Pack
Ann Garrison
Unworthy Victims: Houthis and Hutus
Julian Vigo
Britain’s Slavery Legacy
John Stanton
Brzezinski Vision for a Power Sharing World Stymied by Ignorant Americans Leaders, Citizens
Philip Doe
Colorado: 300 Days of Sunshine Annually, Yet There’s No Sunny Side of the Street
Joseph White
Homage to EP Thompson
Dan Bacher
The Big Corporate Money Behind Jerry Brown
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
DNC Playing Dirty Tricks on WikiLeaks
Ron Jacobs
Education for Liberation
Jim Smith
Socialism Revived: In Spite of Bernie, Donald and Hillary
David Macaray
Organized Labor’s Inferiority Complex
David Cortright
Alternatives to Military Intervention in Syria
Binoy Kampmark
The Terrors of Free Speech: Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act
Cesar Chelala
Guantánamo’s Quagmire
Nyla Ali Khan
Hoping Against Hope in Kashmir
William Hughes
From Sam Spade to the Red Scare: Dashiell Hammett’s War Against Rightwing Creeps
Raouf Halaby
Dear Barack Obama, Please Keep it at 3 for 3
Charles R. Larson
Review: Paulina Chiziane’s “The First Wife: a Tale of Polygamy”
David Yearsley
The Widow Bach: Anna Magdalena Rediscovered
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail