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Author Nguyen Van Hong’s (from Vietnam) inspiring interview on Pailin – Blood and Fire

Firstly, I would like to introduce a bit about myself:

I am Nguyen Van Hong (author of the book Pailin - Blood and Fire).

My advantage to write my realistic book is that I was a soldier who served thirty years in the army, who fought two wars of liberating the country and protecting the country. I have grown from a soldier that directly fought on the front to the company commander, battalion commander, regiment commander, division commander and I was Deputy Chief of Staff Commander of the Corp Commander, holding the rank of Colonel before retiring.

The book is written from real experiences in which the author is an insider.

Tell us about your new book.

The general counter-offensive of a part of the Vietnam People's Army combined with the revolutionary armed forces of the "National Front for National Salvation" on January 7, 1979, smashed the belligerent and reactionary institution of the “Democratic Cambodia" government under the ruling Pol Pot, brought Cambodia back to life from the ruins.

In order to prevent the restoration of Pol Pot's dictatorship while the Cambodian state and revolutionary armed forces were still young, they were not yet able to protect the revolutionary achievements that had just been won, according to the agreement between Vietnamese government and “Kampuchean United Front for National Salvation”, after the fall of Pol Pot dictatorship, a part of the Vietnamese people's army was asked by the Cambodian state to stay and switch to national duty of assisting to build the government and develop the Cambodian revolutionary armed forces. In that volunteer army, an infantry regiment was assigned to fight the remnants of Pol Pot to protect the town of Pailin.

Pailin town as an outpost located in a strategically important area in the west of Bat Tam Bang province bordering Thailand; is a place that has a decisive meaning to the survival of Battambang province in particular and the whole country of Cambodia in general. As the place where the Vietnamese Volunteer Army Regiment fought to help the Cambodian state in the "determined" battle, the remnants of Pol Pot's army were "determined to take back" to bring their exiled government, which has not had a foothold to come here to create a base to have a long-term fight against the Cambodian revolution.

That's why the fight "to gain" and "to keep" taking place here was extremely tough and fierce. The book is about that fight of a Vietnamese volunteer infantry regiment that stood side by side with the people and armed forces of Battambang province from the early 80s of the last century to the day Vietnamese volunteers completed the mission to withdraw to the country.

What was your inspiration behind writing this book?

The Cambodian people escaped from genocide, Cambodia was developed as it is today, the long-standing traditional solidarity between the peoples of Vietnam and Cambodia was restored and above all, partly contributed to ensure political stability in the region and the world. That was the price of hundreds of thousands of lives of Vietnamese volunteers and Cambodian revolutionary armed forces, including the great sacrifice of the Volunteer Army Regiment defending Pailin town.

What can I say more about the sacrifices of volunteer soldiers while I am fortunate to be alive today. It is the mood of a person returning from death, having to do something to express both affection for the deceased and responsibility for future generations: I can only WRITE about the deaths to free my soul.

How did you come up with the book’s title and theme?

Vietnam has a saying: Gratitude is the sign of noble souls (!) Pailin today is a famous tourist destination of the Cambodian state. Tourists when coming to this famous place probably will not know that over forty years ago, in this place, because of the revival of the country of pagodas, thousands of excellent children of the Vietnamese people had to rest here forever, their blood had dyed the land red. The book is a historical witness, recording the land of Pailin that was once stained with the blood of Vietnamese volunteer soldiers.

Is there any real-life character that inspired you to write the book or character?

Most of the characters in the book are real, but have been renamed. A handful of characters remain the same because of their direct impact on events. In general, the characters all contribute to highlighting each story, each real situation. In which the Regiment Commander plays the main role, the source of inspiration, who is under a lot of pressure: for the mission, for the peer and for the family. In the end all endings are good.

Who was your favourite character in the book and why?

The character of Regiment Commander Ngo Xuan Manh (renamed) solved many of the author's criteria: Being a daredevil, daring to take responsibility in the internal fight to resolve conflict, who is very firm but also very adroit to the political commissar in terms of perspectives of things, combat method (how to fight), the relationship between the leader and the assistants, and the sexual relation with a native woman… The most prominent is the idea of attacking the enemy (offensive and defensive), applying suitable combat form to the target and environment in international missions.

Do you think you did justice to all the characters?

As mentioned above, I (the author) am an insider, or rather the superior of Regiment Commander Manh, so I can be sure that the facts of the characters (who are the roles) are correct. There are fictional details but they are based on real events that took place.

What kind of message did you want to convey in the book and do you think you did a good job with it?

Through the book Pailin - Blood and Fire, I want to send to both domestic and foreign readers and abroad a principle: every victory in wars has a price. At the same time, publishing the book is also an opportunity for readers to decipher the war to protect the country on the southwestern border which was associated with the international mission of a part of the Vietnamese Volunteer Army in Cambodia. The impartial and innocent help of the Vietnamese people to the genuine Cambodian revolutionaries comes from the Vietnamese point of view "Helping others is helping yourself."

Today, the risk of conflict is increasing around the world, the consequences are unpredictable and always have to end in negotiation. Peace, friendship and cooperation are the trend of all eras.

How far do you think you have conveyed your feelings on paper?

I think a book, no matter how thick it is, cannot convey all the emotions about a certain event, let alone a war. I've been pursuing the topic of war since the day I started writing and I have published many works, but every time I think about the war, feelings about it seem to hold me back, hovering around me like it happened yesterday. As for the book Pailin - Blood and Fire, I seem to be satisfied with it because what needs to be expressed has been put on each page. However, the severity and horror scenes of the war are not fully expressed. Maybe my writing is not good enough?

Can you read a few of your favourite lines from the book?

Extract some favourite sentences: In this section, the author leaves it to the publisher and readers, but the following passages about the time when Tran Duy Chien and a number of soldiers sacrificed and a paragraph when receiving news that the Vietnamese Volunteer Army was about to withdraw to the country can be quoted:

…. “The battlefield has entered the rainy season. The rainy season that year on the Pailin front could not be forgotten. There was torrential rain, the clouds covered the ruined town. The green forest carpet was swept by the wind, bobbing like waves chasing each other. Trees twisted and cracked, tangled, and fell down. Lightning flashed like whips in the air, tearing the dark clouds into pieces. Water pours down from the hillsides to fill streams, turning roads into rivers, ponds and lakes into sea. The precarious bridges connecting the two banks were washed away by the flood downstream, leaving broken and muddy roads. The 10th street was cut into sections, and the town of Pailin was completely isolated…”


… “A beautiful day in the border area. In the morning, the warm sunlight from the east shines down on the tiled roof of the majestic and magical temple, brightening the iridescent gold layer that has been covered by time for decades. In the yards in front of the houses with broken walls, sparkling with various colours of precious stones mixed with sand and gravel. Flocks of parrots with pale blue feathers flew back, circled in the sky of Pailin and landed on the peach branches left in the ruined neighbourhood. Everything here seems to wake up earlier than usual.

At the 3rd Regiment, many people burst into tears like children when they heard the news that the Vietnamese Volunteers were about to return home from nowhere…”

What responses have you received for the book so far?

For readers who are Veterans, especially Veterans of the Volunteer Army, they welcome it with excitement and pride and thank the author for putting them on the pages of the book, they consider the characters in the book as Volunteer soldiers in general. The book has reawakened the memories of a time of glorious fighting and the traditional solidarity relationship between the people of Vietnam and Cambodia.

For readers who are outsiders but love literature, they express their gratitude to the author for giving them a better understanding of a war that has not been talked about much in the mass media, the book has partly answered a question: why did the Pol Pot genocidal regime collapsed on January 7, 1979, but ten years later, the Vietnamese army still had to be present in Cambodia and had to sacrifice thousands of officers and soldiers.

What are you writing right now?

The author continues to pursue the topic of revolutionary war and the people's armed forces. Currently, I am completing an extremely attractive manuscript so that I can continue to send it to international readers about this war.

What advice do you have for writers?

My literary ability is limited, I don't dare to advise writers, I just hope that the writer is brave enough to get rid of the constraints to put on the pages of the book an objective and honest perspective and reflection.


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