Author Nguyen Hoai Huong and her novel L'ombre Douce (Soft Shadow)
French-born Vietnamese author Hoai Huong Nguyen has won Belgium's Prix Première awarded to first-time writers for her novel L'ombre Douce (Soft Shadow).
Huong, 37, a doctorate in modern literature, held off the challenge from 19 other candidates nominated by a committee composed of booksellers, librarians, and journalists to win the 5,000-euro prize, the seventh edition of Radio Télévision Belge Francophone (RTBF),
L'ombre Douce is a gentle love story between a soldier from Brittany named Yann and Mai, a Vietnamese nurse, set during the Indochina war in 1954.
They meet in a hospital in Hanoi after Yann has a serious chest injury during a battle with the Vietnamese Army, and gradually fall in love with each other. But the war and their families come in the way of their love.
Corinne Boulangier, the head of the awards jury, called the novel "an invitation to curiosity" and a work valid both on the literary and emotional levels.
The author's name in Vietnamese means "longing for the country," referring to the forced uprooting of her family from their native country during the 1970s.
Through the novel, Huong expresses her vision of the relationship between France and Vietnam and speaks of "a fiction which is part of history."
The winner said she has virtually never gone to Vietnam, except a 15-day trip to Hanoi a few years ago.
"But I know the country and its history, because my parents talk about it so much and I also read and study a lot about Vietnam.
"Vietnamese is my mother tongue. But I learned French at school and I fell deeply in love with the language. That is why I decided to study literature and teach French."
Huong's first novel is considered a perfect reflection of the twin cultures that shaped her.
"Vietnam and France are two different worlds but share my life," she said.
The prize has come as an encouragement for her to continue writing. She is working on several projects, which are "all inspired by the mixing and dual culture of mine and the mixture of novel and poetry."
Prior to L'ombre Douce, Huong had published two collections of poetry called "Perfume" and "Deserts."
The Prix Première is given by Radio Télévision Belge Francophone (RTBF), a French public broadcasting organization in Belgium.
Launched in 2006, the award honors maiden works by writers published between September and February every year.
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