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  • The Disillusion of Linda LêRedefining the Vietnamese Diaspora in France
  • Lise-Hélène Smith

A she refuses to identify as a Vietnamese or Vietnamese French writer, Linda Lê voluntarily resists national and literary categorizations. Since for her "appartenir, c'est mourir," Linda Lê defines herself as "une étrangère au monde, au réel, à la vie, au pays dans lequel [elle vit], à [s]on propre pays" (Argand 1999). In her struggle to transcend paradigms of national literatures, she arguably produces deterritorialized texts that rename and reconfigure while expressing "the sentiment that neither a return to the homeland left behind, nor being at home in the host culture is an option," as Azade Seyhan would have it (15). With literature as her only patrie "comme une demeure dont [elle] ne fini[ssait] pas d'explorer les pièces" (Argand 1999), Linda Lê grounds herself aesthetically rather nationally in art as a place of cultural engagement with the self, with the other, with one's own other.

Even though she seldom makes Việt Nam1 the actual subject matter of her texts as a number of scholars have acknowledged, Lê claims that she carries her native land with her "comme un enfant mort" (Argand 1999). The idea of Việt Nam remains very much a part of her fiction especially in Les trois Parques, which came in 1997 as her seventh text or fifth novel. It is also the first of a trilogy about which Lê has stated, "Les trois Parques appartiennent au registre du mythe, Voix à celui du rêve et Lettre morte à la fantasmagorie" (Argand 1999). Although inscribed in the mythical, Les trois Parques takes on a very postmodern form. Paradoxically, it also presents a humanistic outlook embodied in the fragmented life of its postcolonial subjects. On the one hand, Linda Lê seems to reject the triumph of human reason by exposing the corruption of refugee life. On the other hand, she is also building [End Page 59] on the enlightenment project that fosters individual self-determination by presenting a critique of the traditional bildungsroman. She does so by staging her protagonists as three French women of Vietnamese origin whose lives are undeniably stagnating. Rather than focusing on the transmission of a cultural heritage anchored in the original land of Việt Nam, Linda Lê places cultural resistance and ambivalent identities at the center of her unorthodox narrative. In so doing, she problematizes the relation between origin and identity. The text appears particularly interested in disrupting the relationship between Việt Nam (the homeland) and France (the adopted land) to challenge categories of national and cultural identities. By examining its characters' failed attempts at self-definition, Les trois Parques can be read allegorically as an unusually caustic representation of the Vietnamese community that has emerged in France since the seventies.

The product of transnational literature, Les trois Parques may present a linguistic and cultural challenge to its French reader. Written in a stream-of-consciousness form and in a language that mixes registers and conventions, its narration is that of a single afternoon taking place in the kitchen of the eldest of three female relatives. The 250 page-long narrative is only separated into a few paragraphs that juxtapose childhood memories, recollections of life in Việt Nam and present-day concerns, with constant introspections into the lives of its three protagonists. Such effacement of temporal and spatial markers is accentuated by the blurring of the three characters' inner voices. All three are channeled through the narrative voice of the bleakest—the only one to claim the first person pronoun—who constantly interrupts the others' past and present reflections. The narrative thus requires the reader to reconstruct, amidst vivid analepses, the story of these young Parisian women of Vietnamese descent, two sisters and their maternal cousin. Their empty lives parallel those of the absent patriarch le roi Lear and of his old friend le couineur, both of whom remain in Việt Nam. All characters, including the three female protagonists, are interestingly nameless—as if stripped of their identity—and remain limited to descriptive nicknames.2 The oldest sister is identified as l'aînée or...


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