Novel Without a Name

by Thu Huong Duong

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Student Question

What is the "truth" Quan understands about Mr. Buu's evaluation of Mr. Ly and the Party in Novel Without a Name?

"The man with the gold-rimmed glasses had spoken the truth."

Quick answer:

Mr. Buu complains about the impunity with which Communist Party officials pillage their village, all in the name of serving "the greater good," but it is not until Quan hears the two officials on the train banter about their disdain for the commoners and how religion was replaced by Marxism as a way to control them, to maintain power in the hands of an elite few, that he fully understand the manipulative, coercive, and destructive nature of their ideology.

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Novel Without a Name by Duong Thu Huong chronicles the journey of Quan, a North Vietnamese soldier who is tasked with seeking out his childhood friend, Bien, who has allegedly gone mad. Quan has faithfully served the Communist Party and its officials for many years and has obeyed orders unflinchingly.

During Quan's travels, he returns to his native village where he dines with Mr. Buu and his wife. Mr. Ly, a local communist official who dines with them, asks Quan to speak at a party meeting as a "heroic combatant." Buu seems approving until Ly leaves, at which point he rails against communism and denounces the party. He proclaims, "The ones who hold the reins are all ignoramuses who never even learned the most basic morals. They study their Marxism-Leninism, and then come pillage our vegetable gardens and rice fields with Marx’s blessing. In the name of class struggle, they seduce other men’s women.” It should be noted that the Buus have the most opulent house in the village—quite a contrast to the alleged equity imparted by communism—and that his outrage comes off a bit disingenuous considering much of what he has is likely the result of currying favor with the party.

Later, Duong overhears the two Party officials bantering on a train—they're fat and content in contrast to the emaciated and fearful passengers around them. They coo about the self-serving duplicity behind the regime, how it justifies the detriments of war, and how it guarantees a civilized existence for a privileged few (which is fine as long as it's them). The older one with the gold-rimmed glasses says, "For a people as primitive as ours, using a religion to guide them through some shortcuts to glory is a hundred times easier than trying to civilize them … We demolished the temples and emptied the pagodas so we could hang up portraits of Marx, enthrone a new divinity for the masses … A nation of imbeciles. They need a religion to guide them and a whip to educate them."

Quan, having heard but not fully realized the depths of Buu's complaints earlier, now feels he understands the true motives and philosophies of those who hold power in the party: to subvert and control the people through a manipulative ideology that they are meant to believe is in the interest of "the greater good," all while keeping power concentrated in the hands of a select few. Moreover, those select few can exercise force if need be to maintain that power, under which they justify, again, that it is in the public interest. This all aligns with Buu's complaints of party leaders pillaging their village while holding themselves up as moral exemplars.

Quan is also observant of how the people around them in the train look anything but well taken care of and it is now that he fully realizes that he is one of those masses, the people that the man with the gold-rimmed glasses is intent on controlling in order to maintain his own luxurious life. This is one of Quan's key moments of growth.

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