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The Distant Shores of Freedom: Vietnamese American Memoirs and Fiction

by Subarno Chattarji

Subarno Chattarji participated in the Bellagio residency program in 2017. During this residency, he worked on The Distant Shores of Freedom: Vietnamese American Memoirs and Fiction (Bloomsbury, 2019). Subarno is a Professor in the Department of English at the University of Delhi. He has authored and edited several books and articles on subjects ranging from U.S. poetry on the Vietnam War to English Studies in India.

A few words with Subarno

“The chapter on women’s memoirs was challenging partly because there’s been little academic work on these. Most of the works I was reading are by little-known authors and yet they tell us so much about the everyday lives and challenges of being a refugee or immigrant in the United States.

“The residency at Bellagio offered an unique, unforgettable opportunity to meet with an incredibly diverse group of people. All of the presentations at Bellagio from varied fields were engaging and valuable. One of them – by a former U.S. Ambassador to Myanmar – helped me to think further about issues of refugees, displacement, and the politics of ethnic violence.

“The global refugee crisis today is in some ways reminiscent of the crisis of ‘boat people’ post the Vietnam War. Questions of home, belonging, citizenship, dignity, and solidarity are as vital today as they were more than forty years ago.”

A quote from The Distant Shores of Freedom

“In a poem titled Conclusion, Nguyễn Bỉnh Khiêm (1491-1585) wrote: ‘Will there be peace again, as in the old times? / Be sorry for both sides: they keep on fighting. / Brooks of blood everywhere, avalanches of bones. / Terror sends the fish to the bottom, the birds to the thickets. / What good does it do anyone?’ Written in the 16th century, these lines reverberate in the context of 20th century carnage and the works analyzed in this study. The nostalgia for ‘old times’ seeks to recuperate a pre-historical time of peace, and while that is an impossible plea, the poet highlights the futility of ‘both sides’ who ‘keep on fighting’. There are no resolutions here, no points of arrival, for every horizon of freedom from war is steeped in the memories of wars and their aftermaths, and this is as resonant for the current moment as it was in 16th century Vietnam.”


The Distant Shores of Freedom analyzes English-language literary works written by Vietnamese refugees in the U… The difference between mainstream American fiction and memoirs and those written by Vietnamese Americans enables readers to think of the U.S. war in Vietnam from an underrepresented perspective.

Dwelling not only on the war and its aftermaths, Vietnamese American writings also ponder over existential issues of exile, ideas of home, the pain of marginality and racism, questions of community formation within the U.S., and the complexity of diasporic lives.

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To find out more about Subarno’s work, you can visit his University of Delhi profile, or listen to his lecture on Vietnamese in the United States.