I ran out of Spanish language books, well there was only 1 to begin with, so had to read the French piles. The last 2 that I read were both compilations of shorts: L’inutile beauté et autres nouvelles by Guy de Maupassant, and En traversant le fleuve by various Vietnamese writers, both at home and in disapora.

I just realized how hard it is to review shorts in French. Novels are easier as I can focus on plot and character development. For these concise stories however, my French is not sophisticated enough to catch and appreciate all the word choices and imageries.

Guy de Maupassant, we learned from middle school that he is a short story master and we read a couple of his works in our foreign lit class, but I can’t remember either of them. The foreword revealed that de Maupassant himself chose these stories and arranged them himself. My impression, especially from the first half of the collection, is that de Maupassant was obsessed with the relationship between the two sexes. The opening story L’inutile beauté – The useless beauty is about the relationship between a beautiful woman and her aristocratic husband. The husband keeps his wife perpetually pregnant, and she finally revolts by telling her husband that one of their children is not his. The husband, torn by jealousy and doubt, leaves her alone and she can resume her society life instead of wasting her youthful years hidden away.

En traversant le fleuve – Crossing the river compiles shorts by Vietnamese writers in Vietnam, France, Australia, and the US. The themes are varried but the stories are all brutal; characters find themselves in depressing situations economically, politically, emotionally. A beautiful college graduate who can’t find work, has to sell her blood, and finally takes her own life. A blind man that is left behind in a bombed down town, treks through the jungle to look for the human connections, only to be ridiculed when finally among men. A young widow that dies giving birth to her illegitimate child. I recognized some names (Phan Thi Vang Anh, Nguyen Quang Lap e.g. are very well-known in the country) and want to look up and read these works in Vietnamese later.

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