The Zenith

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A major new novel from the most important Vietnamese author writing today

Duong Thu Huong has won acclaim for her exceptional lyricism and psychological acumen, as well as for her unflinching portraits of modern Vietnam and its culture and people. In this monumental new novel she offers an intimate, imagined account of the final months in the life of President Ho Chi Minh at an isolated mountaintop compound where he is imprisoned both physically and emotionally, weaving his ...

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The Zenith: A Novel

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Overview

A major new novel from the most important Vietnamese author writing today

Duong Thu Huong has won acclaim for her exceptional lyricism and psychological acumen, as well as for her unflinching portraits of modern Vietnam and its culture and people. In this monumental new novel she offers an intimate, imagined account of the final months in the life of President Ho Chi Minh at an isolated mountaintop compound where he is imprisoned both physically and emotionally, weaving his story in with those of his wife’s brother-in-law, an elder in a small village town, and a close friend and political ally, to explore how we reconcile the struggles of the human heart with the external world.

These narratives portray the thirst for absolute power, both political and otherwise, and the tragic consequences on family, community, and nationhood that can occur when jealousy is coupled with greed or mixed with a lust for power. The Zenith illuminates and captures the moral conscience of Vietnamese leaders in the 1950s and 1960s as no other book ever has, as well as bringing out the souls of ordinary Vietnamese living through those tumultuous times.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Vietnamese exile Huong’s fifth novel to be published in America (after No Man’s Land) is a dense, complex exploration of love, loss, and destruction of the personal for a feigned “greater good.” The story focuses on the nameless aging Vietnamese “President” exiled to a mountaintop Buddhist compound under guard, and the steps his government takes to eradicate his personal life and loves. His one genuinely trusted adviser, Vu, has claimed one of the President’s illegitimate sons for his own, hides the President’s daughter so she won’t be killed, and tries to protect the President’s humanity from the escalating violence and dictatorial decisions made by “the government” in the President’s name. Memories flood into flashbacks, which flood into more memories, nesting dolls of internal monologue and speculation. The use of present tense throughout both present action and memory is disorienting, as are the temporal loops. As a result, the theme—inhumanities performed in the name of good—loses resonance. This ambitious novel is frustrating for obscuring characters and ideas under layers of rambling thought, instead of facing the atrocities of mid 20th-century Vietnam head-on. (Aug.)
Kirkus Reviews
Scenes from the last months in the life of Ho Chi Minh, as imagined by Vietnamese novelist Huong (Paradise of the Blind, 1993, etc.). In the mountain fastness of northern Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh is cold--and who would have thought that the jungly mountains of that country could possibly be "frigid and foggy"? He is there, and not in Hanoi, because a very subtle coup d'état has taken place even as Ho's People's Republic is struggling in its bloody war against the Americans ("Did you not see what happened when Thang's soldiers ran into the minefield?" asks one combat veteran of another. "Eighteen guys altogether and yet it took the vultures only two days to clean them out.") Much of Huong's story centers on Ho, who, though embittered at the turn of events, is also quietly grateful for the chance to read, meditate and get away from it all; other episodes shift to members of Ho's family, the soldiers surrounding him, their families and, by extension, just about everyone who ever called Ho Chi Minh "the great father of the land." Huong's tone is somber, even exalted, her language formal without being stilted or stiff, her approach sometimes didactic; only rarely are there flashes of that strange language called Translationese, as, for example, this passage: "If he dared speak so boldly, what would keep him from insulting her to her face in a rude and cruel manner when he learned that she had gone all the way to Khoai Hamlet?" Huong's lyrical narrative, developed at a deliberate pace, is sometimes reminiscent of Hermann Broch's The Death of Virgil, that classic 1945 novel that imagined, from the ruins of Europe, the early years of the Roman Empire from the point of view of someone not quite at the center of power who stands in the presence of those who control it absolutely. On that note, it also has undertones of Anatoly Rybakov's Children of the Arbat (1987), whose story switched back and forth from the oppressed man in the Moscow street to the Boss, Josef Stalin, himself. And that's altogether fitting, for Ho was said to be the most Stalinist of all of Stalin's heirs, even if Huong manages to find glimmers of humanity within him. A complex, politically daring story, much of which will be unfamiliar to Western readers--and that demands to be read for that very reason.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780670023752
  • Publisher: Viking Adult
  • Publication date: 8/16/2012
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 528
  • Product dimensions: 6.58 (w) x 9.34 (h) x 1.62 (d)

Meet the Author

Duong Thu Huong, author of Paradise of the Blind and Novel Without a Name (both from Penguin) is an advocate of human rights and democratic political reform, and was expelled from the Communist Party and imprisoned without trial in 1991. The Vietnamese government has effectively banned all of her novels. She lives in Hanoi.

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