Marcelino Truong’s “Une Si Jolie Petite Guerre” — Part One by Ly Lan Dill

We have an outstanding Vietnamese-French graphic novelist, Marcelino Truong, in our midst. In 1957, Truong was born in the Philippines to a Vietnamese father and French mother. His father served as interpreter for President Ngô Đình Diệm’s English-speaking visitors, while his mother was a housewife who struggled with manic depression. Truong’s memories of his childhood in Viet Nam form the core of his groundbreaking and engrossing graphic novel Une Si Jolie Petite Guerre (Such A Nice Little War), in which the Truong family’s stories are intertwined with the history of Viet Nam in the early 1960s, as twisted policies were implemented by a government motivated by a range of imperatives—nationalism, anticolonialism, and fascination with America. In this graphic novel, Truong focuses on life in Sài Gòn from 1961 to 1963.

Today Truong is a self-taught illustrator, painter, and graphic novelist whose awards include the prestigious Bologna Ragazzi prize. He currently lives and works in Paris. Une Si Jolie Petite Guerre (Such A Nice Little War) was published in October 2012 by Editions Denoël and, for the moment, is only available in French. It can be purchased here, and it is currently under review with several US publishers.

The following is the first post of a two-part article by Ly Lan Dill, who was born in Viet Nam, grew up in the US, and is now a Paris-based translator.

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Marcelino Truong's "Une Si Jolie Petite Guerre," published in October 2012 by Editions Denoël

diaCRITICS is thrilled to announce the publication of Une si jolie petite guerre—Saigon 1961-63 (Such a nice little warSaigon 1961-63), the spectacular new graphic novel by Marcelino Truong. It opens with a family portrait on a suburban lawn under a cherry tree. 1961 – Trương Bửu Khánh, a diplomat for the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam), has been appointed to the embassy in Washington, D.C., accompanied by his French wife, Yvette, and their three children, Mireille, Dominique, and Marcelino. The family is called back to Sài Gòn where he becomes head of Vietnam Press and Ngô Đình Diệm’s personal interpreter. Newly elected John F. Kennedy’s distant war intensifies and the family implodes as the mother’s bipolar episodes worsen.

The author and his family at Monticello, Virginia, 1961

The Truong family in Washington, D.C., in pencil draft

The Truong family in Washington, D.C., in the opening page of the graphic novel

In 1963, with the Buddhist revolt in Huế and Thích Quảng Đức’s immolation, the situation nationally and privately becomes unbearable. Marcelino’s father is named counselor to the embassy in London and the Truong family leaves Sài Gòn. They would watch the assassinations of Diệm and Kennedy from London.

The novel focuses on the three years of the Vietnamese-American war under Kennedy. The 50 years since speed by in a succession of panels of iconic scenes in an epilogue that finishes with Marcelino adult with his parents on the beach in St Malo. Through trilingual dialogue and crisp narrative, Marcelino Truong tells a story the French readership has yet to hear, that of the Republic of Vietnam (1955-75). In the forthcoming part 2, Ly Lan Dill meets with Marcelino Truong and discusses his groundbreaking graphic novel.

Marcelino Truong's identification photo, age four

Born in 1957 in the Philippines, Marcelino Truong was named after the street in Manila where his Vietnamese father and French mother used to live – la calle San Marcelino. Marcelino earned degrees in law at Sciences Po and English literature at the Sorbonne, before deciding to become an artist at the late age of 25.

He learned his craft on the job , illustrating newspapers (Libération, Le Monde), magazines (ELLE, L’Express, XXI), and numerous books—especially for young readers, including a picture-book published in the United States (A Place To Grow, Soyung Pak, Arthur Levine Books, NYC, 2002).

Much of Marcelino’s work—but not all—deals with Asia and especially Vietnam. He is currently working on a new graphic novel. This new project explores the battle of Điện Biên Phủ, whose 60th anniversary will be marked in 2014.

As with the American war in Vietnam, Điện Biên Phủ has already been portrayed many times over in several media. The task he has set for himself is daunting, especially as his intention, as with Une si jolie petite guerre, is to portray the mythical battle through the eyes of the Vietnamese, both the combatants of the People’s Army of Vietnam and those forgotten Indochinese soldiers who fought alongside the French. The latter were already unjustly dubbed puppets by their communist counterparts, who were themselves too often dismissed as fanatical “termites” or indoctrinated “red ants.” Green Grass Or A Chest Of Red! is the working title.

 

A cover for one of Marcelino Truong's earlier works, a 2010 adaptation of James Lee Burke’s "Heaven’s Prisoners," where the detective Dave Robicheaux is a Vietnam Vet

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In the forthcoming part 2, Ly Lan Dill meets with Marcelino Truong and discusses his groundbreaking graphic novel, Une Si Jolie Petite Guerre (Such A Nice Little War).

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Marcelino Truong was born in 1957 in the Philippines to a Vietnamese father and French mother. He grew up in Washington, D.C., Saigon, and London, where Marcelino attended the French Lycée. Marcelino moved to Paris for his studies and earned degrees in law at Sciences Po and English literature at the Sorbonne, before deciding to become an artist at the late age of 25. He has published in various print media, authored books for all ages, and exhibited his paintings in galleries throughout Europe. The majority of Marcelino’s work deals with Asia, especially Viet Nam.

Ly Lan Dill was born in Viet Nam, grew up in the US, and is now a Paris-based translator. She earned her undergraduate degree in French Literature (Northwestern) and her post-graduate degrees in Vietnamese diaspora literature (Charles V, Paris 8).

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About Julie Thi Underhill

Julie Thi Underhill is an artist, photographer, filmmaker, writer, historian, and doctoral candidate in Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley. She specializes in Cham studies, diasporic studies, memory studies, Asian American film/video, Asian American history, and transnational feminisms. She is a managing editor for diaCRITICS.
This entry was posted in Art, France, Francophone, Graphic novel, History, Memory, Mixed race/Biracial, Most Critical December 2012, Transnationalism, USA, Vietnam, War and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Marcelino Truong’s “Une Si Jolie Petite Guerre” — Part One by Ly Lan Dill

  1. Tobias says:

    Great review – what about a more liberal translation of the title?
    So instead of “Une Si Jolie Petite Guerre (Such A Nice Little War)”, what about “What a Lovely Little War” ?!
    I.e. a nod towards the 1961 radio play, 1963 stage play, and 1969 Richard Attenborough movie “Oh! What a Lovely War”? See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oh!_What_a_Lovely_War

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