The Demon Who Peddled Longing by Khanh Ha

Source: Virtual Author Book Tours
Paperback, 291 pgs
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The Demon Who Peddled Longing by Khanh Ha is set in post-war Vietnam when a country is still plagued by Khmer Rouge pirates, thefts, rapes, and other devastation.  Nam is a 19-year-old young man striving to avenge the death of his cousin after she is found naked, raped, and killed in the canals of his town after disappearing one evening.  His life was once simple, and this loss, along with the loss of his uncle shortly afterward, has left a deep emptiness in him.  Adrift in the Plain of Reeds, Nam is stumbled upon by an eccentric woman who lives on her own, and he agrees to help her and earn money as he plans out his next steps in the search for his cousin’s killer.

“He felt a fever coming on while he stood in the doorway looking down at the boat.  The water-covered plain reddened as the sun went down, water and sky for one brief moment reflecting each other in a flaming red; and looking across the shimmering water he could see nothing in sight but clumps of tall bushwillows and beyond them dark rain clouds rolling in from the horizon, gigantic billowing black shapes quickly filling up the sky, and distant roars of thunder reverberating over the horizon, seemingly coming from deep in the earth like drumrolls.”  (page 17 ARC)

Nam’s journey from northern Vietnam to the south is fraught with danger as he runs into kind people who are twisted by longing for a better life and whose lives are darkened by loss and oppression.  His presence in their lives helps to shed light in the darkness, but it also further raises tensions in already tenuous situations.  From helping a local family haul in fish and earn money, Nam is always on the lookout for her cousin’s killers.  In many ways, however, Nam’s journey is serendipitous when he uncovers the truth of his cousin’s death.  Along the way, he becomes a man and is free to take his life in any direction he chooses. The novel is very atmospheric and heavy at times, but readers can get lost in Nam’s journey of self-discovery.

The Demon Who Peddled Longing by Khanh Ha is about the darkness that can hover over our lives, and how we each can choose to bow to that pressure or stand up to it.  Part quest and part fable, Ha has created a rich journey through the towns, canals, and fishing hamlets of post-war Vietnam that are struggling to find their way in a world that was once and in many ways still is in turmoil.  Personal demons to actual struggles with evil outside of ourselves can mark our journeys, but they do not have to define who we are.

About the Author:

Khanh Ha was born in Hue, the former capital of Vietnam. During his teen years he began writing short stories which won him several awards in the Vietnamese adolescent magazines. He graduated from Ohio University with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism. Flesh is his first novel. He is at work on a new novel.  Visit the author at his website.  Check out his interview.

Other works reviewed:

Interview with Khanh Ha, author of The Demon Who Peddled Longing

You might remember my review of Khanh Ha’s Flesh in 2012.  Ha’s prose is highly stylistic and transports readers into a dark world full of mythology, and I called Flesh a “stunning debut.”

He’s got a second novel coming out called The Demon Who Peddled Longing, which is likely to look at the dark side of humanity as well, and I’ll be reviewing that in December.

Today, I’ve got an interview treat for you.  Khanh Ha has agreed to answer some questions about his writing and his books.

Please give him a warm welcome.

What myths/legends of the Vietnamese culture appeal to you most and which do make you apprehensive?

As a child growing up in Vietnam, I had an indelible belief in animism. An unseen presence dwelling in an odd-looking rock by the roadside where people placed a bowl of rice grains and a stick of incense long gone cold. Those anthropomorphic images sown in a child’s mind began with the legendary origin of Vietnam when a teacher read a textbook story to the class: “The Dragon and the Immortal,” or Tiên Rồng, from whom the Vietnamese claim their lineage.

As a child, I lived in Huế, the former ancient capital of Vietnam, living in its mysterious atmosphere, half real, half magic. I used to walk home under the shade of the Indian almond trees, the poon trees. At the base of these ancient trees I would pass a shrine. If I went with my grandmother, she would push my head down. “Don’t stare at it,” grandmother said. “That’s disrespect to the genies.” Yet the one practice I deem mindless is the spirit medium-ship when a trance-induced medium lets herself be possessed by a spirit who claims himself a demigod, a deity, a medieval lord marshal; and the audience then make offerings to such spirit, asking for blessings, for their fortune foretold.

Your novels, Flesh and The Demon Who Peddled Longing, bring forth the darker sides of the humanity. What about those desires and dark secrets fascinates you as a writer?

I write dark fiction because of the dystopian world around me. But I want to come out of it alive and atoned for. My main character is like that. He is impetuous, single-minded and yet tender-hearted and loyal.

He hides his dark secrets of the love he has for his cousin, of his longing for the untouchable girl who is married to the overlord triple her age and sexually impotent. Writers are those who know how to fictionalize their dark secrets and desires, and allow readers to experience them secondhand.

If you were to offer one seed of advice to novice writers looking to get published, what would it be?

Find your own writerly voice! When you do, write as the only writer that exists, none before you, none after you. But write something, even if it’s just a suicide note. Somewhere I remember Toni Morrison once said, “I wrote my first novel because I wanted to read it.”

What was the best piece of advice you ever received as a writer?

None. Like every self-made man, I worship my creator. Because I taught myself how to write, I found it dreadful to sit and listen to someone trying to teach techniques in fiction writing. I always consider writing a private business, like lovemaking—you don’t learn how to do it, do you?

Do you read poetry?  Why or why not?  And if you do, who are some of your favorite poets or some of your favorite poems?

I love poetry. It’s the cadence and imagery in poetry that live in me when I write. I must have them to induce moods. I love poetry that’s down-to-earth, simple and sincere, crisp and elegant. For that, I love Charles Bukowski’s You Get So Alone at Times That it Just Makes Sense, and Maya Angelou’s Passing Time, which was used as the epigraph of my novel The Demon Who Peddled Longing.

Thank you, Khahn Ha, for answering my questions.  I look forward to reading your next novel.

Mailbox Monday #289

Mailbox Monday, created by Marcia at To Be Continued, formerly The Printed Page, has a permanent home at its own blog.

To check out what everyone has received over the last week, visit the blog and check out the links.  Leave yours too.

Also, each week, Leslie, Vicki, and I will share the Books that Caught Our Eye from everyone’s weekly links.

Here’s what I received:

1.  The Demon Who Peddled Longing by Khanh Ha for review in November with Virtual Author Book Tours.

Set in post-war Vietnam, The Demon Who Peddled Longing tells the terrible journey of a nineteen-year-old boy in search of the two brothers who are drifters and who raped and killed his cousin also his girl. It brings
together the damned, the unfit, the brave, who succumb by their own doing to the call of fate. Yet their desire to survive and to face life again never dies, so that when someone like the boy who is psychologically damaged by his family tragedy, who no sooner gets his life together after being rescued by a fisherwoman than falls in love with an untouchable girl and finds his life in peril, takes his leave in the end, there is nothing left but a longing in the heart that goes with him.

What did you receive?