1 Oct 2023

Dr Que Mai Nguyen Phan on her latest novel about Vietnam, Dust Child

From Smart Talk, 7:00 pm on 1 October 2023
Vietnamese woman examines an M60 machine gun on a No. 9 Squadron UH-1

Vietnamese woman examines an M60 machine gun on a No. 9 Squadron UH-1 Photo: Westbury / Gerald Wallace

Dr Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai's latest novel Dust Child sets out to subvert Hollywood movie stereotypes of Vietnamese women being subservient and passive.

She talks to Paula Morris in this highlight of the 2023 Auckland Writers Festival.

Presenting an alternative to the American gaze, Dust Child highlights the struggles of Amerasians – children born from relationships between American soldiers and Vietnamese women who suffered discrimination and other ill-treatment.

Is it odd for a Vietnamese woman to write in the character of a young Amerasian man? No more than it has been for white American authors to create the recognisable trope of a Vietnamese bar girl, Dr Quế Mai says.

Dr Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai is the author of 12 books of poetry, short fiction and non-fiction in Vietnamese and English.

In this discussion with Paula Morris, she speaks about writing in two languages, the importance of decolonising literature in English about her homeland and the need to acknowledge untold stories and silenced trauma.

During the course of a lively session in the Kiri Te Kanawa Theatre at Auckland’s Aotea Centre, Dr Quế Mai sings a number of songs, including one created especially for the audience in front of her.

About the speaker

Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai

Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai Photo: supplied

Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai

Dr Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai is an award-winning author of eleven books of poetry, short fiction and non-fiction. Her best-selling debut novel The Mountains Sing won the 2021 International Book Award, the 2021 Pen Oakland/Josephine Miles Literary Award, the 2020 Lannan Literary Award Fellowship for Fiction, and was runner-up for the 2021 Dayton Literary Peace Prize. Dr Quế Mai is an advocate for the rights of disadvantaged groups in Việt Nam and was named by Forbes Vietnam as one of 20 inspiring women of 2021. Her latest novel is Dust Child.


This session is broadcast thanks to the generous help of the Auckland Writers Festival held in May 2023

Photo: Auckland Writers Festival