Short story by Pham Thuan Thanh from Vietnam

Translated to English by HFT

Επιμέλεια: Εύα Πετροπούλου Λιανού


Born May 23, 1962

Homeland: Bac Ninh

Member of Linguistic Society of Vietnam

Member of Literature and Arts Association of Vietnamese Ethnic Minorities

Main literature works published so far:

  • 5 novels
  • 10 collections of short stories
  • 2 poetry collections
  • Many cultural and historical research books
  • And many articiles published in so many Central andn local newspapers and magazines

Literature Award:

Dozens of literature awards for novels, short stories, poems…

Short story

Learning to be human      

Two hat-trick criminal records, he doesn’t care about life. He disregards life. During the day he sleeps so that at night he searches to steal at neighbors. Muscovy ducks, chickens, pots, from little to great values, he steals everything. He has to take care of his ailing wife and two small children. He declares blatantly: I prefer to stay in prison than at home. In prison, there is never a break of meal. In prison, it is equal without suspicious eyes of the villagers.

No one wants to involve with him. If involving with him, he will get acquainted and then borrow things or pay attention for stealing. If lending him something, it will be lost, because he will turn these things into instant noodles and put them in stomach that could not expect to get them back.

If swearing, afraid of being his revenge, he would throw bricks into the house, he would stalk for stealing. There’s no point in catching him. Sending him to the police that will have trouble. It will take time for filing, educating and then releasing. Keeping him, it will lose meals for him. A pilfer is not worthy of prosecution. Bad reputation could be for local administration, and the loss of achievements in converting mistakers. He keeps living like that in villagers’ hatreds, in expecting for someone to punish him.

While he is living unruly, I rent a house to open a bookstore right opposite to his house. Immediately he probes: asking for water, asking for food, cooking noodles, borrowing baskets… He shows a sweet attitude, a potentially dangerous attitude. I also have to sweetly respond to buy close neighbors.

Don’t want to involve but he still insists to involve. Because he really has no ability to involve with anyone in this village. So, I always had to stretch the strings to keep eyes on him. When getting close, he shows off his birth name, Van Van Sach. His last name is Van and name Sach, so he respects me because I own a bookstore.

He even joks, saying that if consider him like a book, I would be his master too. He knows that the books contain many good things, unfortunately the book he was writen by society that was so difficult to read. I suddenly have the idea to advise him to read books, maybe every day if he can accumulate a few good things of the ten thousand books, his book may become a precious one. He asks straightly:

Dare you lend me a book? I warn you in advance, if I borrow it, I will set in a fire. Look, my house has no firewood.

– Find something to cook. Sweep the leaves, get the grass. Full of straws at fields. Why tearing the book. Here, you can take home and read it, no need to sign. To be honest, you love to read, I am so happy. To love books that will love books. You return this book and I lend you another. If you don’t return, I lose a book worth nothing. If losing, I’m sorry to lose the faith and more importantly, to lose your chance to be a normal person.

– You say as a radio. Well, let me borrow a thin book, it can really lose less for you if tearing.

He changes books every day, even the book once borrowed, he still borrows it again. Attached assuring words: “Don’t worry, if tearing, I would tear the whole book, I don’t only tear one or two sheets”. Of course, I check it myself, if he tore books I would know. From the day he became a bookworm, he starts shouting and urging at his children to study. On this side, clearly hearing that he speaks to children “Your father becomes a good person thanks to read books and reading books thanks to go to school. You must study well so that you can have chances to read books in the future”.

From the day he loves to read, neighbors rarely complain about losing chickens or pots.

After sometimes he said to me:

– Do you really think that I borrow your books to read? No, not at all. I just want learning to be human, so I have to borrow books and learn to love books. Also let my children study hard, while the neighbors look at me differently. Do you understand?