Two Shores / Deux rives.
Vancouver: RonsdalePress, 1995. 166pp, paperback, $14.95.
Grades 11 and up / Ages 16 and up.
Review by Kathleen L. Kellett-Betsos.
In Saïgon there was a famous astrologer,
whom everybody went to see.
The one day, in the sixties,
he started to prophesy
foreign countries for us.
He forecast to students, rich men, ordinary people,
even to the poor and the outcasts.
To all he predicted, "You will travel overseas."
We laughed, seeing expensive clothes,
and on gloomy days said:
"Let us go to the astrologer's
so that he can predict our future,
our fabulous destinies!"
A Saïgon il y avait un devin célèrebre
que tout le monde consultait.
Puis un jour, dans les années soixante,
il commença à nous prédire
des pays étrangers.
Il disait aux étudiants,
aux hommes riches ou ordinaires,
et même aux pauvres et aux déshérités,
à tous il prédit: "Vous voyagerez outremer."
Nous avons ri, voyant
des vêtements chers, des bagages de cuir,
et disions les jours tristes:
"Allons chez le devin,
qu'il prophétise notre avenir
nos destinées fabuleuses!"
The subtle atmosphere of historical irony evident in this poem pervades
Two Shores / Deux rives, Thuong Vuong-Riddick's first
collection of poetry. Personal and political history intertwine as the
poet considers her life first in Vietnam, then as a student in France,
and finally, as immigrant, teacher, wife, and mother in Canada.
Poems such as "History," which enumerates the series of invaders
and conflicts in Vietnam, and "My Beloved is dead in Vietnam," which
laments the lover's death in a litany of battles, sensitize the Western
reader to the long history of a conflict which North American culture,
particularly in its films, has seen primarily from the American point of
view. In "My Sister's piano," the complexity of allegiances in a land
disputed by so many different forces is evoked through music: as the
sister plays old songs such as "The Dream Passes," honouring generals of
the French Revolution, the crazy uncle sings the national anthem of Red
China, French soldiers sing "La Marseillaise," the Vietminh sing a song
of the French resistance -- all background music to the Battle of
Diên Biên Phû. In contrast, the turbulent events of May
1968 in France and the October Crisis of 1970 in Quebec, which the author
also experienced, seem relatively innocent, as suggested in "The
Whirlwind of History":
In Montréal I found two jobs,
But History followed me,
When La Crise d'Octobre 1970 exploded,
students told me: "The most tragic episode of our history!"
I thought: "Only one killed!"
Life appears more tranquil in Victoria, nonetheless nicknamed
"Agatha Christie town" for its hidden mysteries, but it involves the
difficulties of balancing academic life and family responsibilities, as
suggested in the poem "Stress". Some of the most moving poems speak of
the author's three children, particularly "After the operation":
"The small marble," my daughter asks,
"could it come back?"
I feel the scar on my chest.
"It could," I say." [...]
In the evening the children
Gather round me, lifeguards.
Vuong-Riddick's poetic autobiography is a dual language edition,
written first in English then "recreated" in French. A comparison
between the English and French texts reveal subtle differences. In the
English poems, there inevitably surface French words evocative of the
French milieu where the poet lived and worked; for example, in describing
relationships in Quebec, the poet says, "I felt notre amitié / as
a warm current / under the icy cold." In the French version, the effect
of contrast is lost: "je sentais notre amitié / comme un courant
chaud / sous le froid glacial."
Occasionally the images in English are more concise and more
striking; for example, the simile in "For Anne"/"Pour Anne": "The
months of pregnancy / were like a wrestling bout/ with the Pacific" is
less effective in the French version: "Les mois où je t'attendais
/ étaient ceux où j'ai dû lutter /comme contre le
Pacifique." This slight weakness no doubt reflects the difficulty of
poetic re-creation. After comparing Vuong-Riddick's poems in French and
English, language students may want to try this bilingual writing as an
I recommend this volume of poetry very highly and have every
intention of teaching some of these poems in my own French classes. I
would consider them suitable for English and French classes from Grade
Eleven onward. The aesthetic appeal of the book cover and the typography
are an invitation to the reader to enter this world of history,
autobiography, and poetic imagery.
Kathleen L. Kellett-Betsos is a French Professor at Ryerson
Polytechnic University in Toronto.
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Copyright © 1995 the Manitoba Library Association.
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