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To Hoai – A writer of Hanoi

(1 vote, average 5.00 out of 5)

Many people say that To Hoai is not only “a great, old tree” of the Vietnamese literary circle but also “a researcher of Hanoi”. He is a native of Hanoi and lives in Hanoi, so he is well aware of this city. His deep and interesting writings of Hanoi are unparalleled.

At the age of 90, writer To Hoai is still healthy and optimistic.


It seems that everybody knows To Hoai because his name has been attached to well-known literary works, such as “The Adventure of a Cricket” (1941), “Story of Tay Bac” (1953) and “The Western Area” (1967), and he is one of few the famous writers in the pre-revolutionary period (before 1945) who is still alive. Talking about To Hoai, it is impossible not to mention his literary works full of Hanoi’s imprints. In his books, Hanoi is very simple, modest and close, but through his books about Hanoi readers still find the gentlemanly, gallant and humorous style of this Hanoi writer.

Writer To Hoai and the draft of the story “My Childhood”
which consists of many short stories about Hanoi of the past.

Reading books is his hobby.

Members of the Vietnam Writers’ Association congratulate writer To Hoai on his 90th birthday.

Writer To Hoai was born in Hanoi and has been attached to the city his whole life. Even his pen-name “To Hoai” also originates from the first names of two famous places in Hanoi - the To Lich River and Hoai Duc District.

So it is easy to understand that among his nearly 200 works there are many well-known works about Hanoi or relating to Hanoi, such as the “Old Story of Hanoi”, “Poor Family”, “Vow of the Moon”, “Outskirts Residents”, “Native Land of Others”, “Ten Years”, “Countryside”, etc. Under To Hoai’s pen, the life and images of Hanoians in different periods are depicted precisely and lively.

Regarding Hanoi’s Old Quarter of today, writer To Hoai confided: “The houses may have a little differences between them, with some restoration, like added floors, but the streets have not changed, so the Old Quarter basically looks as what it was 100 years ago. I can find any street with my eyes closed. The old sidewalks are still kept. On Ngo Quyen, Hang Khay, Trang Tien, Hang Bai, Nguyen Xi and Dinh Le Streets, the edge of the sidewalks are still covered with green stones taken from the Thay and Tram Mountains. These were the first sidewalks paved with stones in Hanoi because there was not much cement in the old days. Walking along the streets I am familiar with everything. The old underground sewerage system is still kept, with its round manhole covers made in France, still having the word “Marseille”. At that time, beside the present-day Quan Thanh Temple on Quan Thanh Street the French established Sacric Company, an Indochinese brick and tile company. Its production area was rather large, up to thousands of square metres. The clay for making bricks was taken from Quan La on the other side of the West Lake and transported by boat. In the past West Lake was very large and busy with many boats. Around the lake there were many luxuriant trees and bushes and near the banks people grew many lotus plants.”

Memories about Hanoi always exist in the mind of writer To Hoai, abundant and clear. That’s why he can travel to any street with his eyes closed.

Hanoi is connected with To Hoai’s life like breathing is attached to life, so he has a very unique way of viewing the Hanoians. He once said: “The Hanoians have elegant and gentle features which are the quintessence created by many regions. Hanoi residents come from everywhere, so they are not locally minded. I think this is a very interesting characteristic of Hanoi.”

Cultural researcher Vuong Tri Nhan said of To Hoai: “His delicate, thorough observation enables To Hoai to remember and record many details of the life in Hanoi. Historically, we see that Hanoi has been constantly observed by To Hoai, from the French’s arrival through 1930 and 1940 to the August Revolution.” Vuong Tri Nhan also said that there is a great number of writers and reporters who are natives of Hanoi but probably only To Hoai knows the specific characteristic of the land where he grows up and he maintains this characteristic throughout his writing career.

Now at 90, writer To Hoai lives with his children and grandchildren in a small apartment in Nghia Tan Dormitory in Cau Giay District, Hanoi. Although considered retired he is still eager to write. He is completing the story entitled “My Childhood” which consists of many short stories about Hanoi of the past.

On September 1, 2010 he was awarded the “Grand Prize – For the Love for Hanoi”, the most important prize in the award system of “Bui Xuan Phai – For the Love for Hanoi”. That was a worthy prize for To Hoai who has been wholeheartedly devoted to Hanoi, his beloved capital city.

Writer To Hoai, whose real name is Nguyen Sen, was born in 1920 in Nghia Do Village, Tu Liem District, Hoai Duc Precinct in Ha Dong Province (present-day Nghia Do Ward, Cau Giay District, Hanoi).


 - First Novel Prize by Vietnam Literature and Arts Association in 1956 (Story “Tay Bac”).

- Prize A by Hanoi Literature and Arts Association in 1970 (Novel “Native Village”).

- Prize by the Afro-Asian Writers Association in 1970 (Novel “Western Area”).

- Ho Chi Minh Prize for Literature and Arts (in 1996).

Source: VietnamPictorial 

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