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Vietnamese-French Playwright Uncovers Vietnamese Immigrants' Lives on Stage

Saigon, Caroline Guiale Nguyen's new play, taps into the untold stories of Vietnamese exiles and their struggles to settle themselves abroad.

Nguyen's four-hour-long play made its debut at the Avignon Festival in France earlier this month, and has garnered applause and tears from audience and critics alike, AFP reports.

"The play ends with the line, 'This is the way we tell stories in Vietnam: with lots of tears.' Well, we love these tears that French theatre has been so long deprived of," AFP quotes a review from French newspaper Le Monde.

The stage takes place in a Vietnamese restaurant in Paris in 1996, from which Nguyen proceeds to weave together the shared histories of France and Vietnam while shedding light onto the fates of Vietnamese immigrants on foreign soil.

“The play is framed by two dates — 1956 and 1996,” Nguyen told AFP. The year 1956 marked the end of the French colonial regime in Vietnam: following the battle of Dien Bien Phu and the Geneva Accords, French troops were forced to leave, and with them were Vietnamese citizens who wanted to resettle elsewhere. It was only after the United States removed its embargo on Vietnam in 1996 that these immigrants could return to their homeland.

Not all of them wanted to, though. Nguyen recalled the drift in her own family: “Some of my aunts and uncles never wanted to go back, while others longed to end their days there.”

A similar theme emerges through the 11 characters in Saigon, according to the news source. To write the script, Nguyen traveled back and forth between France and Vietnam for two years to collect stories. “We gathered testimony but also sounds, images and atmosphere, and from all that our fiction was born," she shared with the site.

And unlike Viet Thanh Nguyen's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Sympathizer, Saigon makes a conscious effort to steer clear of politics. "What interested me was to look at people whose fates have been decided by colonization, to see what it left in their bodies and in their hearts," Nguyen said.

[Photo via Next Liberation]

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