By Linda Tan Lingard
Little is known about publishing in Vietnam — a nation of 90 million people — where a loosening of state controls has led to a mini-boom in activity in recent years. We interviewed Nguyen Le Chi of Le Chi Culture and Communicated Ltd., or Chibooks, who is making steady strides in the world of literary translation.
Publishing Perspectives: Please tell us about your publishing company and agency?
Nguyen Le Chi: Le Chi Culture and Communicated Ltd. was established in 2008 following my success in bringing international books into Vietnam from 2004 onwards after Vietnam officially signed the Berne Convention. I love literature and I focused only on publishing famous novels from America, England, Australia, New Zealand, China, and others. Now several years later, my company’s brand name, Chibooks, is successful and well known. We are now concentrating on publishing foreign titles in series with romance and fantasy being the more popular. Some of the foreign authors include Rick Riordan, Candace Bushnell and Rachel Gibson.
I have just started our KIDBOOKS imprint this year and have already published picture books from England, France, India and others. Next, I would like to cooperate with responsible and creative Asian publishers to publish Asian folk tales and other stories. I hope we can have a common voice in the long term and publish more books from this region.
Chibooks Agency was established 2014 to introduce well-known Vietnamese literature and to assist Vietnamese publishers and small companies that may find it difficult to [find] good books internationally. I hope the agency will be a strong bridge to connect to many different cultures.
Recently you have moved into film as well. Please tell us more about this.
I love movies and was exposed to film from a young age as my parents worked in the film industry. In 2004, I graduated with a masters degree from Beijing Film Academy Directing Department. I have been involved in different ways in the film industry; as a translator for films and television series; as a producer for a television series; I was involved in selecting Vietnamese films for international film festivals in ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations); and have sold film rights to other countries. So I have just established Chi Film to do what I have been doing anyway. I want to introduce more and more good Vietnamese movies to the world.
How is the state of publishing in Vietnam? What kinds of books are most popular?
It’s not easy, of course. Private companies like my company have to ask the [government’s] Publishing Department for a publishing license for each book. It wastes a lot of time as we have to wait for approval as they check whether the content is suitable for Vietnamese culture, customs and ethical standards. And, of course, I have to pay for a publishing license.
Publishing in Vietnam is like playing a game and very dangerous for private publishing companies. We have to pay for everything to publish a book yet we can’t actively control the whole of the publishing process. The national publisher can order you to cut out some paragraphs in your books for many reasons. And if you don’t agree, you can forget the publishing license and your book will not have a chance to be on the market. And you can forget your dream.
Books for teens are always popular in Vietnam, especially literature. Maybe the youth want to look for their dreams through the books. There aren’t many new books by Vietnamese writers, so many books are translations from America, UK, China and France.
What is the state of literature/writing in Vietnam? Who are the famous authors?
Vietnamese writers write both fiction and non-fiction Some older writers like to write about the country’s past, relating to the war or people’s destiny in the war. Young authors like to write about feelings or lifestyle of the young in this modern world. Famous young authors include Phan Hon Nhien and Vu Dinh Giang. Chibooks Agency has chosen some books by famous Vietnamese writers for the Frankfurt Book Fair this year. I really hope other international publishers will be interested in them.
Which book from Vietnam would you recommend to a foreign publisher to publish?
I don’t like it [that] when foreigners talk about Vietnam, all of them [are] affected by the perception of the war. I want to change that. I don’t want to talk again about the past, about history. I want to tell them about the new Vietnam with modern, active young people with great vitality. I am recommending books relating to Vietnamese young people’s way of feeling, thinking and living. Vu Ding Giang writes gay stories which delve deeply into their souls, their happiness and unspeakable pain. Phan Hon Nhien writes about the ambitions, competitiveness or sadness of teenagers. Ho Anth Thai writes about modern people living in the cities. Through these books, you can see the whole of Vietnamese society in small portions.