A Few minutes ago, I posted my 5 star review on ‘The Demon Who Peddled Longing’. It is now my honor to introduce the esteemed author, Khanh Ha!
TR: Please tell us more about “The Demon Who Peddled Longing,” something that is not in the description.
KH: Sure. There’s much more about this complex novel, and it begins with the boy badly hurt in a boat wreck. He finds himself on the Plain of Reeds in the Mekong Delta, being saved by a fisherwoman who drinks nothing but rice liquor and nurses him with her own milk and at night would take his sex and caress it like a holy object. When he decides to leave, the woman comes close to taking his life. He runs away. He travels south on the trail taken by the drifters who has raped and murdered his cousin, until he reaches a seaside town. One night he sees a girl coming down the road on a beautiful white horse. He has hardly breath while he stands in front of her. He knows he would never be the same again without knowing her. By chance the boy finds out who the girl is. The twenty-two-year-old girl, the untouched cherry, is married to an overlord triple her age and sexually impotent. Then there is the overlord, the most unforgiving master of his own vast holdings yet a victim of his illnesses, who wants the boy’s life for having laid his eyes on the master’s young wife. From this backdrop comes a story of the damned, the unfit, the brave, who succumb by their own doing to the call of fate.
TR: The title really grabbed me when I saw it. Please tell us how you came up with it.
KH: I was reading The Shurangama Sutra when I came upon this passage: “One day the monk was returning to the monastery after having spent the day reciting sutras for the deceased. He passed a house with a dog in the yard. The dog began to bark at him, and he overheard the wife inside the house say to her husband: ‘Go see who it is.’ Then the monk saw the husband peer out the slit in the curtain and reply, ‘Oh, it’s just that ghost who peddles sutras and repentances.’” That remark fits the essence of the novel with a tweak for the title.
TR: Both your books take place in Vietnam, where you grew up as a child. Are there any autobiographical moments in either book, or perhaps something you witnessed?
KH: When I was a high school senior in Saigon, I’d ride home every day on a motorcycle and pass by an all-girl high school. There was a girl dressed in the school’s uniform—white shirt and knee-high navy-blue skirt—standing every day under a tamarind tree outside the school. We’d steal glances at each other, and every day I’d count every traffic light before I reached her school. In the sound of traffic, the sound of which we both became familiar with, one passed by with a sidelong glance, and the other was left with nothing but a smile remembered. I wrote out that adolescent memory in “The Demon Who Peddled Longing” when the boy ran into the girl on the white horse, and I made the romance happen for them.
TR: Can you tell us something of your personal experience growing up in Vietnam?
KH: Personal experiences are worth to me only when I can fictionalize them. One day I saw a xích lô—a Vietnamese pedicab—pass by my house in Saigon and stop when an American passenger got out. He was big and tall and the phu xích lô—the pedicab coolie—was tiny with all bones and toothpick legs. He was taking the fare from the American and, before I knew it, he started coughing up gobs of blood. He reeled like he was dancing then fell flat on his back. The American chased his bill before the wind blew it away. The police came and pulled the coolie’s body to the curbside and put a poncho over him. After that it rained—monsoon rain. Lucky for him he wasn’t washed away by the time his friends came to claim the body. The poor man had TB. I fictionalized that experience in my novel, “The Children of Icarus,” a political thriller, still in the manuscript form.
TR: In both “Flesh” and “The Demon Who Peddled Longing,” your main character set out as young men to avenge a family member’s death. Why do you explore this in common dark thread?
KH: It had to do with a child’s memory. My late father was the chairman of a major political party in Vietnam. His party was anti-communist, anti-dictatorial. He was betrayed by a party member and was imprisoned by the First Republic of Vietnam for his anti-dictatorial stance. I often wondered what he would do if one day he were to meet his traitor face to face. So I put my protagonists in both “Flesh” and “The Demon Who Peddled Longing” through this predicament.
TR: What authors have been the greatest influence in your craft of writing?
KH: Hemingway, Faulkner, Cormac McCarthy. I wrote with their influences in my early days as a fledgling writer.
TR: What do you like to do when you are not writing?
KH: I read a lot more between the long breaks from writing novels. We’d vacation, sometimes to the seaside, sometimes out of the country. It’d be bad if our vacations happen during my writing. But you need to balance your writing with your life priorities, and your family always comes first.
Thanks for taking time to talk about your work today Khanh. You are welcome back to Teddy Rose Book Reviews anytime!
Publisher: Underground Voices (November 21, 2014)
Category: Literary Fiction, Multicultural
Tour Date: November, 2014
Available in: Print & ebook, 296 Pages
From the award winning author of ‘Flesh’, “Demons advocate love‒not the compassionate love devoid of possession and sexual desire. It’s the lustful love. They tempt humans with such lust, and the moment living beings fall for it, the demons will peddle longing to take them away.”
Thus, begins the terrible journey of a twenty-year-old boy in search of the two brothers who are drifters and who raped and killed his cousin also his girl.
Set in post-war Vietnam, The Demon Who Peddled Longing brings together the damned, the unfit, the brave, who succumb by their own doing to the call of fate. Yet their desire to survive and to face life again never dies, so that when someone like the boy, who is psychologically damaged by his family tragedy, who no sooner gets his life together after being rescued by a fisherwoman than falls in love with an untouchable girl and finds his life in peril, takes his leave in the end, there is nothing left but a longing in the heart that goes with him.
About Khanh Ha:
Khanh Ha is the author of Flesh (2012,Black Heron Press). He is a three-time Pushcart nominee and the recipient of Greensboro Review’s 2014 Robert Watson Literary Prize in Fiction. His work has appeared or is forthcoming inWaccamaw Journal, storySouth, Greensboro Review, The Long Story,Permafrost Magazine, Saint Ann’s Review, Moon City Review, Red Savina Review, DUCTS, ARDOR, Lunch Ticket, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, Tayo Literary Magazine, Sugar Mule, Yellow Medicine Review, Printer’s Devil Review, Mount Hope, Thrice Fiction, Lalitamba Journal, and other fine magazines.
Book on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23163554-the-demon-who-peddled-longing