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Interview with Nguyen Trong Luan – author of Hungry Forest, published by Ukiyoto Publishing

Tell us about your new book.

Hungry Forest is a nonfiction novel. That is, all events, places, names, and even dates are true. This is a book about people who are university students in Hanoi set out to fight against invaders to preserve the independence of the Vietnamese Fatherland. The actions, thoughts and deeds of these soldiers have high cultural knowledge in all behaviours and combat.

What was your inspiration behind writing this book?

I am one of the university students who went to war in the fiercest days of the resistance war for national independence. I have no ambition to write and embellish the life of a patriot soldier. I just want to record in literary form the life of soldiers who are students.

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

By the time we went to the battlefield to fight the US, the situation of the Vietnamese army was extremely difficult. The roads transporting food and ammunition were bombarded by the US Air Force. For months we had no rice to eat, no medicine, not the bare minimum of a combat soldier's life. We had to feed ourselves by all means by many kinds of trees in the forest. We were hungry, so hungry that the forests that we picked vegetables from were also exhausted. That's why Hungry Forest is the title of the book.

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

All the characters are friends fighting beside me. I don't include any strange characters in this book.

Who was your favourite character in the book and why?

I love all the characters in Hungry Forest. Because they are a part of my life.

Do you think you did justice to all the characters?

I think I was honest and portrayed the real characters accurately. But I regret that I have not fully written down the courage and greatness of these ordinary soldiers into the work. For this I think I owe it to those ordinary but extraordinary people.

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

The message I want to convey in this book is: My people won their independence from nearly a century of invasion by the world's great empires not only with courage, weapons and determination but also with the intelligence of the Vietnamese people.

How well do you think you have conveyed your emotions on paper?

I think I have fulfilled my mission to write about my comrades’s fight and their brave sacrifices against the enemy in the face of hunger and disease in the jungle of resistance. But that's not enough. Vietnamese literature still needs a lot more years to write about the resistance war against the French and the US to regain the unification of the North and South. The greatest achievement is the independent nation.

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

In my book there is a passage when we reached the border of our country, that time we were only a river away and we wanted to rush across the river quickly, climb to our homeland and die willingly. The passage reads as follows…

…” That night, the last night we slept on foreign land. The hammock rope was stuck in one place for a long time and it was tightly tied to the tree trunk. Looking at the hammock traces on the tree trunk, you can understand the heart of the person lying in the hammock. The naughty man often moved and swayed, so the hammock rope cut into the bark of the tree. The well-mannered and quiet man only left a trace of the hammock sinking deep into the tree trunk. Along the Truong Son Range, there are millions of traces of the hammock lines of millions of soldiers that have cut into the forest trees. The bark of the Truong Son tree was dripping with resin, which looked like blood. Time will blur those traces but it will take a long time. In the past few days, we have not fought the battle, but together we have suffered the enemy's bombs and artillery. Together, we shared each meal from the meagre forest roots and wild vegetables gathered in the forest. We sat beside the silent graves in the remote jungle across the border. We used to hug each other when they had malaria to give each other warmth. Tears of one person fell on the other's cheeks in the feverish forest fever. In this hungry forest it is impossible to distinguish between a student soldier, a worker or a farmer. The Patriotic War did not distinguish between people who are more or less educated…”

What kind of responses have you received so far?

When the book is printed, there is a day to celebrate the book's release. That day both professional writers and the characters in this book were invited to attend. The old soldiers hugged each other, they cried because they recognized themselves from forty years ago. The characters of this novel all bear their real names and positions or jobs when returning from the war. Many of them are high-ranking officials in society.

Are you working on anything else at the moment?

I am still continuing to write about my nation's fight for independence and freedom. This is a theme that always exists for every peace-loving, independence-loving nation.

What advice do you have for other writers?

I never intended to give advice to other writers. I just told myself to honestly write down my emotional thoughts about something. I am a writer, if I do not reach the end of my sincerity, I will not be able to be a writer for my country.


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