Thai Ba Loi: The truthfulness of reality in the novel of Doan Tuan


Từ trái qua: nhà văn Đoàn Tuấn, Nguyễn Thành Nhân, Nguyễn Vũ Điền và nhà thơ Lê Minh Quốc (đứng, MC của sự kiện).

Many times, chatting with college, who had fought on the Kampuchea battlefield, I often say:” the reality at K under the Polpot fighting, was the background of the novel. Here was full of conflict, which human beings had through: fiendish and human, national and international, extinct a race and resuscitate. Extremism, save and help as well as invade…all knit together to show off maximum the human personality. The unusual and unique stories like the volunteer soldier who deserted the army or who got married to the Kampuchea people; who lived cover between two fronts, who was the object hunted by us and the enemy. Such context but you only made the poetry…

There were also prose writings, but it did not stick a clear mark on these dramatic and awful realities in reading soul.

I did not take part in directly this battle fight, just sometimes sent as a writer penetrated reality. But that reality is always obsessed and urged me to write something about it. I found and read memoirs of the K battlefield veterans: to be moved and truthful. I discovered that there were different things soldiers against Americans with ones against Pol Pot. The thoughts of the veteran of the K battlefield do not like ours completely for example when they called together” same country” under American against period to imply that they were the same district, the same province…but in K battlefield was in the whole country. I also returned back to Kampuchea many times to think more about the thing which was in my mind in the past. In summary, I want to write one book about this region, this battle, but for many different reasons, until now I still do not make it.

When reading the draft “The prayer for wandering souls“ by writer Doan Tuan, I was astonished as there was equivocal happiness that came to me. The feeling disengaged from something. I know I am not a busybody about writing the book about K battlefield or not. I do not make it because the writings of Doan Tuan made it already. One example: I attend to begin my book with the story in which the council commissioner judges the assistant chief of staff of a regiment, who had sexual relations with a Kampuchea woman. The sentence was attending all one’s life when it was in the army corps, but the instruction of the highest level was capital punishment to keep strict military orders in the Kampuchea region. The sentence was made immediately. The person who sat on the jury was the political chairman, when drawing troops back to the country, dropped to visit the dead prison comrade and then develop the circumstances of the story and character of a person. This was an event that possessed me. But in “The prayer for wandering souls“, there were 5 cases like that, he wrote them thoroughly because he was an insider.

The writing “ The prayer of the wandering souls” did not write genre; but according to me, that was the novel nearest to the true meaning although characters, events were true, was the nearest the trust.

Two main characters were Doan Tuan and his comrade called Anh, who was the monk: Phteah Saniphap later. They also fought on the same Kampucheaon battlefield, then return from military service, and went abroad. Doan Tuan return to the libratory faculty of Ha Noi city university; came to the Soviet Union to study at the famous movies school. Anh was back in his local; he took part in the communist youth Union; and then came to work in Germany. He got married, had children, and made the stable regiment. The economy of his family was very stable, but his soul was not stable, he always thought about his comrades; and the place where he had been fought. He turned back to Kampuchea; became a monk; volunteered to hold a ceremony for the peace of souls of us and the enemy

. They were alternatives; and supported together to make the story backbone. Each time, Anh, monk Phteah Saniphap celebrated a requiem somewhere, and then the fight between Vietnam and Pol Pot reappeared specific, coherent as it had just happened yesterday. Especially, Doan Tuan came to visit veterans, who turned back the normal life in Vietnam with how the sequel of the war. As if it is, this chapter, that chapter, the writings had attracted the readers with the truth, sound-mind writing style, correct penmanship, and close outline.

A generation in which the youth pack back used all essential things for battle. But our young soul collided with blood, gun power, iron, steel, and death, also hurt. Is there anyone seeing that injury?

Is there anyone who appraises the injury, which always dripped with blood.? And no one ranked that injury. Without allowance, compensatory, injury on the body may be becoming scar, it’s very[N1] unlikely the soul injury becomes nonsense. Is there anyone bandaging us? Or do we ourselves bandage together? And we were alive to turn back, certainly, how many people died in steady of? We can not live in security and good health. We had to come there. Bandage for the soul who still has pain in the middle of the wild forest. But there is no reason why we only bandage people, who belong to ours. People belong to that, they were also very painted? People all had died, is there any feud more?...

On time, by the chance, taking part in requiem at the border of Ratanakiri Province, the contiguous zone between Kon Tum and Gia Lai of Vietnam, Doan Tuan asked Anh:” What is your religious name in Khmer?” Phteah Saniphap means a peaceful house. The writings said:” He went and found the soul of the death. I went and found the soul of life. So their work is confirmed. They are confident:” We rushed on the west-south border battlefield, just at the moment when the country had just spent thirty years of the war. The peaceful smell did not taste yet. And then we were demobilized just at the moment the country had still been difficult at the end of one’s resources. Each one is scattered in each direction, and anyone also walks off as if in a living plan without raising his head, now there were some easy things to breathe, I am going to go with some people going to find the last comrades, and study how they live now.\\

That was the job you must do. Our comrades turned back to their province, which was very difficult. There was no force, no job, no money. They also shouldered their family, took care of the old parent, and nourished the child…how to say all of arduous, how to do to the end of hard, if not visit comrade, they will go away. The memory is reminded by anyone. Do not let them die in sad, lonesome.

And then, Doan Tuan came to Lao Cai, to find H’mong comrade, Anh, monk Phteah saniphap came to the old shooting school where was condemned comrade, celebrated a requiem for the unluck people. They had five people, who were under sentence of death because they violated the Kampuchea woman. The monk called soul and talked with each people.

After that, the writers came to Cao Bang to visit comrade, the Tay nation, but Cuong had died two months ago. He, the warrant officer, was a returnee to do as a porter in Mong Cai, he died because he rushed into the floodwaters to save people. The people were saved but he has swept away. The monk came to Preah Vihear to pray for the peace of the red Khmer soldier’s soul, who died at the end of January; 1979…

It’s such a thing, two comrades, one in Kampuchea, and one in Vietnam, go to do the job which their conscience hurry to do. Through this composition, the novel attracted readers, bringing them from this state to that one naturally, there is nothing to coerce.

Since the requiem at Strung Treng airport of the monk and the visiting Mr. Rich in Mai Chau of Doan Tuan, Mai Chau, the season where perfumed glutinous, heated the tourists, but to the writer, that had two places which were two comrades Mac Van Tuong and Ha van rich. Mr. Rich got nervous because of a piece of shrapnel, which had been taken out yet. His left arm was ham because of getting a bullet. The certificate of his injury was stolen so treatment was worked quickly. His journey wad injury, go into the hospital; and was a returnee. Although he was a ham at his hand, he played the guitar very well; and played in each hamlet in the Mai Chau district. Sometimes, went to the far province. People at hamlet nourished him, and played the guitar already, people invited him to eat and drink, and sometimes sleep as well, recently, he often had a headache, sometimes bowed his head into the house pole to bleed and weep bitterly. Doan Tuan came to visit and see the half-done fired house lying in the middle of the garden, the view was not different from the hamlet, which left the desert in Kampuchea.\\

“Mr.Rich, why did you fire your house?”. The writer asked “ I missed An long vien too much, the night we fired An Long Veng, I went and sang silently. Doan Tuan was also miserable due to Rich because he often phoned at 1 o’clock in the morning or 3 o’clock, he thought Doan Tuan has a miracle to grant him the certificate of his injury again. Later, at the wine party, Rich said:” I was injured because I did not fight the enemy well, was not I? I was lucky when I did not die, now I turned back home, and also demanded satisfaction from the prime minister. I thought I had to claim compensation Polpot logically. Pol Pot died long ago. He died so we did not force him to do that. I  have a little stunned because I was injured in the head. God gave me to get married. So was compensation already. Today, my wife and children did not come to the commune, district to claim the policy anymore. Let’s raise the cup!

Monk Phteach Saniphap came up the Dangrêc mountain chain with a Pol Pot soldier in the past, called Bua Thong. In that battle, a unit of Bua Thong was killed almost empty. He was injured without the treatment drug so he risked his life coming to the 21st army medical hospital of the 5th military district. When he was nearly well again, he escaped from the hospital because he was afraid the doctor found his antecedents. The Vietnam doctor said to him:” We know you were a Polpot soldier but we still take care of you as a patient, without differentiating friends and enemies. Your injury was going to well again, you should not escape. Out of the hospital, he was a normal person. The volunteer Vietnam unit decimated his company, which was a unit of Anh, monks. Now, Bua Thong led the monk coming to celebrate the requiem of his company’s souls. The monk read a long prayer told about the development of this battle.

At the same time, Doan Tuan went and found a special person from the Lang region.  The five aerea was long. A part of Hoang Kien’s gut. The excellent veteran was admired by all of the Regiment, he was the best person who flirted with the girls. He argued the weakest person, liked to conquer the other, and the strongest person conquered himself. There someone asked him if there was someone who loved enough 63 nations or not. He just smiled. But there was one thing everyone also knew one common point of Kien’s love, there were not any women who slandered him. He lived heartedness, mixedly with everyone, and when he separated, he often left all assets, he went out with two empty hands. Comrade asked him:” why did he have such happiness?”, he answered:” When having sex with the women, the man was always unhappy. Why? Because the man calculated too much. For the women, the man just only gave, not allowed to receive, and when giving, the man did not hesitate, totally unprejudiced. Never putting sex with the woman to the first rank, always wholeheartedly for them as our parent. And when leaf them the man should pour out for them to the last penny. Went out without anything, you went and whistled...

At Kampong Speu. there was a Khmer knowledge family. Although this house had a person who took holy orders, Mr. Son Him had to invite politely monk Phteah Saniphap came and celebrate a requiem for people in his family, who were killed by Son Sen and Pol Pot. Under Pol Pot, Monk was considered the blackest dyer. Thousand of monks were executed. Thousand of pagodas were broken. Monk Som Manbun, Som Him’s son, told us that they cooked the dog meat and forced us to eat it, And force us to drink alcohol. Sometimes, they overjoyed us, they forced us to burn the prayer. Many people couldn’t stand it, they committed suicide. But I reminded myself, that prayers were in my mind. I did and prayed the Buddhist supported me alive. I believed one day I went back to restore Buddhism...

Mr. Son Him was superior expertise in the medical ministry; and had gone with Royal Norodom Sihanouk as well as general Lon Non but he felt insecure so he asked for early retirement. He said apartheid thought of Pol Pot like Lon Non’s thought in some parts. People from Viet, Cham, and China were killed the most. His children were killed because they had white skin. They wanted to build one Kampuchea government with all purebred Khmer; established one state of great Khmer including Khmer in Thai Lan and Vietnam. To achieve that goal, they roused the blood of extreme nationalism; and killed other nations. The monk asked why so cruel they are? Mr. Son Him replied:” I think they were frightened. Ruthlessness was an expression of fear. And dictator usually was an illusion. If the leaders of the world have an expression of illusion in their words and work, so humans need to be cautious.

The writing found and visited the comrade called Thanh. Since he was demobilized, his comrade named him the nickname “Thanh Gan”. Because when he heard any comrade died, he visited them immediately, but not alone, whenever he also incited everybody to take part” Hello! here was the sad news. Mr.Quang Do, who was in Quang Nam, died already, or hello you! I had just received the news Mr.Kham was in Phu Tho, and had died. Hi! Countrymen, Mr.Nang was in Binh Dinh, has just died, everybody told we sent the flower ring. But the day after tomorrow he was buried, tomorrow you and I flew into Binh Dinh well. Every time there was the phone of Thanh Gan, we knew there was a comrade who died, prepared to visit.

He explained:” If there was no comrade there, I must be present. and no one knows we will die. But I was still surprised how to do I still survived. When I still do as a soldier, I get light injuries. When I did as a leader of the platoon, I was nothing although I took part in a lot of the fights. Meanwhile, comrades were injured and died a lot. Maybe, they died substituting for me, or I was supported by the angel? May nights, I wondered, but I never discovered the answer, and there was no one to ask with. Just know I still survive. How many of my comrades lay on the ground? And I felt light and relaxed in my soul, I only know to be concerned for my comrade, do not mention a friend or close friend, know or not, I came to them with my sincere, I hope comrade had just died, who felt console. They lived a hard life and when they died. They would go out of the relation warm bracelet and comradeship.

Meanwhile, monk Phteah Saniphap came to the Bassac river to celebrate the requiem for the Vietnamese people, who were killed by Lon Non in 1970. And then came to Kratie prayed for the peace of soul of nurses, who were killed by Pol Pot\s soldier. On the other hand, Doan Tuan and his comrade brought a mother from Ha Noi to Gia Lai to bring the remains of Minh’s martyr return to his country. Her family condition was very poor and mysterious. Comrade distributed about 50 million; and sent people to locals such as Quang Nam, and Binh Dinh, supplementing more people. Who was the same unit coming to the martyr Cemetary of the Iaglai district, when incense was burned on the martyr’s grave, and comrades stood behind her? The mother was in a voice choked with emotion. Minh! After you died, your father also died, and your brothers were corrupted in all. One died because of HIV, the other was wanted. I was lonely, and busy earning my life, there was no time to take care of them.

Hearing her prayer, we felt how cruel the war is!

From Kratié, the monk came to Preah Vihear, the high 547 to celebrate nearly hundreds of soldiers of 307 division, who died because thirty in 1983. That was a battle he also took part in, but luckily, he survived. He thanked the writing doing the funeral oration of his comrades, who died because of thirst in the battle of 547. After two fighting days, our troops could not occupy the enemy’s base. The water jugs dragged by tanks; were broken because of getting mine, and the water cans were the destination for Pol Pot on the high, fire. the troops The division commanded us to withdraw, We lost the battle, our soldiers were casualties a lot, and then a thirsty died story. The funeral oration said:

“ But the soldier withdrew, they still brought them to the last, met the enemy still preserving to fire. But the soldier had to surrender and be yielded front one enemy: poured fire on them that was the water. The water in the dry season becomes depleted, without the water, the soldier sat down and died of exhaustion, The ant crept up, insects bitten all over the body, his throat burned to dry, no talk anymore, no stand anymore, how many people also want to, took the muzzle to their temple, and pressed; the brain was thrown out, escaped from the deported incarnation…

This battle had pressed deeply into the memory of every soldier on the K battlefield. In 1984, when turning back to work as a commander of the 5th district, directed to prepare to fight the 547 again, general Nguyen Chon instructed the district logistics to mobilize the American tole dome remained, and solder them to the water kettle, from Da Nang brought them to the battlefield, not ten of them, some hundred kettles like that, scattered them all over directions, where the soldier will attack, fill up the water. This battle got resounding victories. 

There was a doctor, the company‘s chairman of the army medical corps; when he was discharged from military service,  he often left out his house to wander or sometimes, in the afternoon, came up to the dyke to sit alone. People humored that he was possessed by the ghost. He said,” I am the stable nervous, sound mind, always do a good thing to help people. I understand myself. But you knew, I was possessed by the cemetery, which was our company”.

“ Cut leg, cut leg”, whenever I also dream of cutting leg whether eating or sleeping. I  whirled in the work: cutting leg. I try to keep them for comrade but it can not. Though having the desensitizer, when being cut, I felt like I was cutting my skin and blesh. When done, took advantage they were still senseless, I brought the leg to the cemetery. I did not want to thank the nurse. I was afraid they buried it carelessly. I want to do it myself. Please, apologized to me. I buried a part of their body. Banked equally tomb of hand and leg. How to remember it. I remarked on the hand or leg tomb of a comrade.  In case of anybody ask, I had a place to show it to them.

The doctor always remembered the cemetery of comrade’s hand and leg. Hearing everybody visited the K battlefield turning back telling that become the town, including the hotel. He had one dream. My small dream was that one day he turned back to Kampuchea, and came to the division surgeon’s place to raise a stele. On that, he wrote nothing, just caved a couple of legs. The writing asked:” what purpose do you set up the stele”. He replied:” I do not know. And that was nothing to do. It was really. At least, it was secured for me and the wounded soldier. The hand; and the leg were known to think.

There was a scout telling that:” We, ten of the division scout, were ten of veteran soldiers, with the folding butt AK. Behind us was one infantry company support. Our mission was that rescue the division commander Heng sam rin imprisoned by Pol Pot because they discovered the staging of a coup d’etat scheme…

Their story was long and had man thrilling details. They entered the place where interned Hen som rin. Tieing the guard, took him out about half away, then the work was out. The enemy fired everywhere. Mr. Hen som rin tripped and fell, his leg was injured, he was limping. The scout did not hesitate, lifted him up his back, The bullet flew rumblingly. He was very big, but I do not know where his force is from, he carried him on his back running for more than one kilometer. Rescuing one person, later was the leader of the reviving Khmer nation. Later, Mr. Hen som rin asked, but he hid his name. Do the good deed, we must know modestly. After being demobilized, he was up to Thai Nguyen to plant the tea and was often told he carried Hen som Rin on his back. One day, he asked Doan Tuan:” Nowadays, do you often come to Kampuchea for business”,” What do you want?” I have one delicious tea kilograms to offer Mr.Hen som rin”. Every time, he was going to tell carrying Mr. Hen som Rin on his back, his wife screamed ‘ Oh dear! Whenever he also told about Hen som rin. Carried him one time but he told me ten years without boring. Now you try to come to that place!  Manage him to let you carry him one more time or not? His wife wanted to bring him to the present. But his soul was the same in the past, must send one good tea kilogram to offer Hen som rin. How to tell him to know what name the sending people is? You just only told him that from one scout soldier of the 10th division, he will remember at once.

In the last chapter, Doan Tuan built the scene in which, the monk Phteah Saniphap called the soul of Pol Pot. No wonder then where did the writing take the document out, but a portrait of the dictator appeared clearly with very concrete detail, persuading the reader. The conversation started:” Hello Mr. PolPot! “,  “ Hello, the monk Phteah Saniphap”, “ firstly, congratulation to you, Mrs. Sar Patchath, your daughter, who has just married. When I died, she was 11 years old. She was my only daughter with the second wife. He has two wives. The first one was dementia. I brought her to treatment everywhere, including Pei Ching, China. But it did not ease up. I married the second after the first died. About your family life, everyone had the word to respect you. But there were some problems in your life we want to know. Do you pleased to answer?”,” Please”. In that way, through the story, a portrait of murder, a portrait of a dark age appeared.

“ How were the Kampuchea people? That was the pure Kampuchea people with black skin, the curled hair. That were the great people, better than the around nations. How about Khmer? That name mixed up many nations. Khmer from Cham, Khmer from Vietnam, Khmer from Thai Lan, from China…I do not like it. So, that thing led to the racial purified strategy. I only wanted The Kampuchea people to live on the Kampuchea ground. The other nation was not necessary. They were the bad elements. Our motto was that let you live, we did not have the benefit, killed you already, we lose nothing.

The conversation lasted long ten of pages. Pol pot told about his work, purified his nation, and purified the party with the extremest and the cruelest method. The monk asked” Sir! In your biography, you were not Kampuchean, who liked you called. You were born into a family, in which Your father was  Chinese, and your mother was  Khmer. That was the children’s story, the past story. I studied a lot, went to many places in the world, and I was as proud as the great Kampuchean nation. I always heated hatred for a foreign country. I always nourished the idea, in that we must purify the nation and the country. Our slogan was that purify the party, the army, and the cadre, because which there were many people, who worked for the CIA, KFB, Vietnam…You looked like a mistake between extremism and patriotism. What did that mean? According to my thought, patriotism is connected closely to the love of other people. And extremism was often connected close to revenge with other nations. That thing was still argued for a long time.

Pol pot explained about policy to build the Kampuchea society without religion, no spending the money, no family life, the 7 years old child was separated from their parent, and no city because capitalism only developed in the city. Deported the people out of the city aimed to reduce the power of Si Ha Nouk. There was just commune life, the community kitchen. Everybody was eating at a place,  not at home. Every creature was managed by Angkor. Anybody who did not obey; would punish, and the body turned into fertilizer.

He told about relations with China, with Vietnam. Considering the China cultural revolution was a standard. Considering the war launch with Vietnam was the national policy.

And this was the end of the life of Pol Pot.

“Why did you resign the red Khmer’s general commander?”, “ I resigned in 1985 because of my health problem. Moreover, I wanted to do that to support Son Sen, but I did not believe he and his accomplice betray me”

“ How was this issue in practice, Sir?”

During the time I was in China to treat my illness, Sihanouk and Son Sen sides started to negotiate with Hun Xen’s government. They plan to conduct the election. The people were hating the red Khmer. If we organed the election, we would fail. What do you do then? I commanded killing Son Sen. Killing all members of his family as well as his supports…But later he himself was placed under house arrest by Ta Mok. Perhaps, Ta Mok was afraid that I will execute him so he did first.

He blamed me to betray the movement. I organed escaping my family with some guards. At that time, I was weak. My guard had to carry me on their back/ Ta Mok command his soldier to run after. They arrested me and imprisoned me at An Long Ven. I called Noon Chea and Khieu Sam Phone to the rescue. But two of my old friends were also against me. How was your life on your ending day? I was a stroke; and hemiplegia. I got the cancel ill without drug to treat. I was also narrowing the master artery. It seemed like that when you died, nobody cried. Nobody cried to me. And I never cried to anyone. What do you regret when you die? My daughter was too young. Public opinions said that when you are burned at the stake, you still hold tightly your hand and raised it up. They humored such that, when you died, your body will harden, meet the hot temperature leg and hands shrank, which was normal. And raised up because they put me on the heap of wood…

I had read this writing for nearly 300 pages, all in a breath. The concise words; and vivid conversation obsessed me; brought me to nearly to the fact, that I had listened, read, and gone to end but we were very ambiguous, sometimes, afraid of touching with it because of cruel, no humanity beyond the imagining of the human. And in that dark practice, love and protection help mutually, fellow creature, fellow-citizen lived up make me moved, make me believe on strengthening which can not abuse of the human being in any circumstances.

Thank these things in the book, which brought readers the true details and the writer’s feelings. 

Recognizing of the truthfulness of reality in the novel was the first quality of the writer.



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