The passing of 'Mr Cricket'

(No.6, Vol.4,Jul-Aug 2014 Vietnam Heritage Magazine)

Late writer To Hoai
Photo: An Thanh Dat

The last representative of the golden generation of Vietnamese literature gave his final breath in Hanoi on July 6, leaving the literature community mourning.
After almost 70 years of writing, he left 150 works in various genres, from short stories, multi-series long stories, memoirs, novels, film scripts, essays and commentaries. He had a great number of famous works, namely ‘O Chuot’ (Hunting Mice), 1942; ‘Nha Ngheo’ (Poor Family), 1944; ‘Vo Chong A Phu’ (A Phu Spouse), 1952; ‘Truyen Tay Bac’ (Stories of the Northwestern Region), 1953; ‘Mien Tay’ (The Western Region), 1967. The author kept working in his old age and published in ‘Ba Nguoi Khac’ (Three Others), in 2006.
The most well-known work by To Hoai is ‘De Men Phieu Luu Ky’ (Adventures of a Cricket), 1941, which has been favourite of kids generation after generation and still continues to be so today. Every Vietnamese kid knows about the book and thus To Hoai was sometimes referred to as Mr De Men (Cricket).
To Hoai (Nguyen Sen) was born in 1920 into a family of craftsmen on the outskirts of Thanh Oai District, Ha Noi, near the To Lich River. He grew up in his mother's native village, Hoai Duc, in Ha Dong Province (now part of Cau Giay district in Hanoi).
His pen name, To Hoai, came from To Lich and Hoai Duc. Besides this pen name, the writer also employed other names, such as Mai Trang, Mat Bien, Thai Yen, Vu Dot Kich and Pham Hoa.
To Hoai made his living at various jobs, from being a teacher for children, to selling goods, to being an accountant for traders. Hoai’s literature career began in the early 1940’s, but he devoted his life fully to writing in 1954.
He received a number of awards for his literary works, including the Ho Chi Minh Award in Literature and Arts in 1996, and Bui Xuan Phai – For the Love of Hanoi Award in 2010.
Despite his fame, To Hoai was said to be nice and friendly to everybody. He was also a dedicated writer and had a lot of influence on younger writers. ‘He had a very good memory and gave every phenomenon in life a close look in order to make his works come alive to audiences in all walks of life,’ said poet Bang Viet in a local newspaper. ‘He worked dedicatedly every day. To Hoai assigned himself daily work and worked on it diligently.’
Poet Tran Dang Khoa said the author was a ‘live dictionary’ because of his knowledge in many fields. ‘I asked him about Hanoi and he knew as much as a scholar.’ People said broad knowledge and carefulness helped To Hoai to have lively descriptions of characters in his works.
Adventures of a Cricket tells stories of a cricket that leaves his nest at a young age to travel to many places and learn things through different situations and people. Some critics said the cricket is a symbol of the author’s teenage years.
The book has been translated into English and available in several countries, including the US under the name of Diary of a Cricket.
In memory of the noble author, local publisher Phuong Nam Books will hold a workshop on his life and career. The publisher also plans to reprint To Hoai's colossal works of literature by July of next year to mark his death.

Photo: Internet

Compiled by Hoang Ngoc
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