With contributions from Hạc Trần, Giau Minh Truong, Patricia Nguyen, Nhung Walsh, & Lương Nguyễn Liêm Bình
Series of color and black & white perfect-bound books
Like many overseas Vietnamese of my generation who returned to Vietnam for the first time as adults, I was searching for signs to help me understand my identity and to recuperate my family's history that had been displaced as a result of the war. On a bus, I bought a copy of the novel Catfish and Mandala, sold by a street vendor. This memoir follows the author, also overseas Vietnamese, as he returns to Vietnam grapples with the intensity of feeling very Vietnamese and not truly Vietnamese at the same time. Upon closer inspection, I found the book to be not just a copy, but literally a photocopy of the entire book, meticulously reproduced to look and feel like the original, save for a few artifacts that betrayed its method of production.
That was in 2005. A year ago, I mentioned this incident to a group of friends, also of this diasporic Vietnamese community, who all had similar experiences of happening upon a copy of a copy of this same book, while (or around the same time as) they were returning to Vietnam for the first time. What I imagined was my unique experience was actually collective. I was interested in how my experience mirrored those of this group, so I asked them to each re-read and annotate individual copies of the book, which I would compile into one copy of a copy of a copy.
Questions of authenticity linger over all of our experiences as we reflect upon our identities as Việt Kiều (overseas Vietnamese) and what it means to claim an identity as real or fake. Eventually, I would like for copies of the book to re-circulate in informal markets, adding layers of meaning and experience to these questions of identity for future readers to discover.