Following is the message in an email from Harry Jackendoff whom I met at the Princeton Library Author’s Day this past April. He bought a copy of my book and I asked him to tell me what he thought of it once he had read it.
April 22, 2013
I began Village Teacher, I believe, 2 evenings ago, and finished this afternoon…..picking it up this morning at 4:30am when I couldn’t sleep. My wife was actually pleased to see me finishing it in the back yard when she arrived from work….”There is hope for you yet! Reading a novel!!!”
I rarely read novels. I had many reasons for starting it…. which I cannot fully explain here….and did not think it would be easy to finish when I first began reading…. as the style is very “upright” and perhaps academic sounding…. not particularly story-telling or conversational….but the story grabbed me, and the Dickensian twists were planted early enough to make me want to see how you would weave the characters back in. It was a very engaging story….as you see I could not put it down. I only wish it were more accessible to readers. I mused about a CLASSIC COMICBOOK version, or a film for the young Vietnamese market back home…. there is so much that I wish we had known back in the 60′s, when you yourself were struggling with all breeds of Americans at home, like your characters had to deal with all breeds of French.
The writing style is unfortunately not what most novel readers are used to… yet the story carries it, if only the reader will give you the respect of reading a chapter or three before deciding to continue. For after the 3rd chapter or so they will want to pick it up again. What I found missing, however was some way to picture the scenes…to place myself in the landscape. perhaps some ink drawings in a calligraphic style at the chapter breaks…..giving us some sense of the lines of the horizon, rooftops, jagged shorelines, sampans on the river, the bamboo cage….. the references to flowers were often lost on me.. I know bougainvillea…. the smells and air quality, the architecture and tree-scapes, the undergrowth….the dust and dirt….. somehow I had to keep reminding myself I was in Vietnam, where the birds are no doubt different, the insect life as different as the 19th century culture… you get what I am after I am sure. You were very very careful in describing every bit of the interior landscape of each character, as if we are reading requirement specifications. I sat back and let you tell me what you had to tell me in the way you knew how, but it was often at the expense of the drama unfolding. This became an accustomed part of the flow after a while, and it was soon apparent that every fact you told us would be part of the denouement shortly …or soon thereafter.
Anyway, this was a wonderful journey, and you took me to a welcome time and place far from my own….yet very much connected.
Harry Jackendoff (H Alan Tansson)