Aoife Mannix, the British author of four collections of poetry: The trick of foreign words (2002), The elephant in the corner (2005), Growing up an alien (2007) and Turn the clocks upside down (2008) was in Hanoi to join EU Literature Days 2014. The UK stole the limelight with Aoife Mannix and the award-winning documentary The Love of Books: A Sarajevo Story, which was shown at the opening of the EU Literature Days.
As revealed by its name, The Love of Books: A Sarejevo Story created a perfect setting for a series of activities for book lovers in the capital city of Vietnam. Set in the war-torn Bosnia, a group of men and women risked their lives to rescue thousands of Islamic manuscripts held by Sarajevo’s Gazi Husrav Beg Library. The haunting cruelty of the war dramatically contrasted with the pure happiness and the serene inner peace brought about by the timeless manuscripts that survived the bombs and the fire.
Aoife Mannix met hundreds of Vietnamese students and readers and talked about creative writing, women writers and Tolkien. The author of the novel Heritage of Secrets also delivered some reading sessions in which her lyrical and powerful verse broke the language barrier and connected with the local audience surprisingly well.
As a writer, Aoife obviously knew how to tell others about her Vietnam experiences, please read below.
Impressions of Vietnam
by Aoife Mannix
Vietnam is a beautiful, fascinating country that tourists understandably flock to. Yet for me what was really exciting about being invited there by the British Council was the opportunity to meet local people. Creative writing workshops are not apparently an established phenomena in Vietnam so when I first arrived to work with classes of British Council students in Ho Chi Minh City, I think they were unsure what to expect. Despite this, the students were incredibly open and enthusiastic. What really shocked me was how good their English was. I have worked with native speakers in London who didn’t display as large a vocabulary as these young people did!
The next day I gave a lecture at the Vietnam National University where again I was struck by the incredibly warm welcome I received. I then flew to Hanoi where I attended the launch of the Vietnamese European Literature Festival. I was part of a panel of European writers and Vietnamese translators discussing feminism in contemporary European novels. I also ran a creative writing workshop at the Goethe Institute that was open to the public. Thanks to my excellent Vietnamese translator, it was a truly inspiring afternoon that once again impressed upon me the wonderful creativity and enthusiasm of the people I met. I also took part in a talk about JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, which has been translated into Vietnamese. Finally I performed my poems and gave a talk to young people at the British Council in Hanoi asking them about their lives as they questioned me about mine. I had an absolutely fantastic time and I hope this poem captures a little of the spirit of my trip.
Impressions of Vietnam
I’m back in those tiny labyrinths of motorcycles,
the beeb beeb of old Hanoi draped in silk
with paper lanterns swaying in the sun.
The umbrellas held for protection
against so much brightness.
Each street corner hopping
with red and blue stools
as the traffic swirls past.
Such an elegant mix of old and new.
The deep calm of the coffee shops
with their smell of freshly brewed heaven,
the newspaper that announces I am the ghost
of the Lord of the Rings as I try to show
pictures of snow in a fantasy of forty degree heat.
This strange mix of mythology and world wars.
The sweetness of lime juice, the smiles
that need no translation as a man tells me
how he travels by rainbow. A bird soaring free
over the elephant slowness of the past.
School girls who love the survival instinct
of their city. Its crazy passion for zipping
through purple flowers that drip with t-shirts,
cone hats, and the smell of old fashioned romance.