My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Philip K. Dick in “Second Variety” and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? foretold the future of technological advances decades before the technology even existed. Ray Bradbury in his infamous novel Fahrenheit 451 has augured a prophecy.
Fahrenheit 451 first appeared in Galaxy Science Fiction under the title “The Fireman” in 1950 and was later turned into a novel three years later.
Bradbury’s novel extrapolates on a futuristic society governed by the senses rather than the intellect and firemen who usually stop fires are instead used to censor society by burning books. Fahrenheit 451 eerily predicts the actions of the Communist, now Socialist, government in Vietnam when the Vietnam War concluded on April 30, 1975 with an American defeat and a united Vietnam under a new form of government.
A colleague of mine, one for protection we shall call Nga Smith, was a Vietnamese college graduate planning to leave Saigon in 1975 for an American scholarship for a masters degree when the war ended abruptly, ending her hopes of a higher education as well. Mrs. Smith, currently an English teacher, told me in an interview once that the Vietnamese government posted flyers and notifications all over Saigon, now named Ho Chi Minh City, and each house was searched for intellectual paraphernalia. One night a knock came at her parent’s door. The police came in and collected all her books and went to burn them, much like Bradbury predicted in his novel Fahrenheit 451.
Bradbury begins his novel with the intense, searing line: “it was a pleasure to burn” (3).
And for Vietnam over the next few decades knowledge was suppressed and censorship heavily enforced.
Montag, a fireman in the novel, finally awakes from his censor-induced stupor and admits, “‘I don’t know anything anymore’” (Bradbury 18).
Ray Douglas Bradbury
And so fell Mrs. Smith and all of Vietnam into a new Dark Age. After the war, “all television, radio, and telephone systems; filmmaking; and Internet service providers in Vietnam are owned and operate by state agencies” and other forms of print media, such as newspapers, “are owned and operated by government ministries, the Communist Party, and official organizations” (Luong 37).
By removing books and knowledge from the hands of the people, the government was able to erase the responsibility of education and self-government. Vietnamese citizens simply had to do what they were told.
Captain Beatty, in Fahrenheit 451, imagines how fire is much like censorship, both eradicated knowledge: “‘It’s perpetual motion…. What is fire? It’s a mystery… Its real beauty is that it destroys responsibility and consequences’” (Bradbury 115). Much is the same in the old ways of Vietnam’s politics.
In Postwar Vietnam, it specifically states:
Compared to the rules regarding housing, traffic, and residency requirements, which people in many parts of the country often ignore with near impunity, rules against unauthorized outlets of media are rarely breached and when they are, the law enforcement agencies respond quickly to stop the infraction and often punish the violators (Luong 37).
Much of this representation of postwar Vietnam can be found in Bradbury’s novel. Citizens may live as they please without fear, and they can continually commit suicide with the least bit of interference from the law. Montag’s wife almost dies and is saved when an emergency team pumps out her stomach and cleans her blood, with them casually handling the case because they get “nine or ten cases a night” (Bradbury 15).
A person’s life is not granted much respect. However, a person’s mind is prodigiously feared. In the novel, as well as postwar Vietnam, if someone published something without permission then punishment followed.
Nonetheless, Montag, as well as Vietnam, began to notice the need and desire for knowledge, which is directly associated with growth. Montag confesses to himself, “‘I’m going to do something… I don’t even know what yet, but I’m going to do something big’” (65). And from that point forward, by gradually accepting the fate of the intellect rather than suppressing it through force and censorship, the world opens up and begins to change.
Modern Vietnam is drastically different than postwar Vietnam for one main reason and that is because censorship laws have been all but vanquished. There are laws in place to protect the image of the government and the people, but the newspapers have, on several occasions since my arrival to Vietnam several years ago, posted critical stories on state owned companies, and which is causing the system to become more privatized in an effort of producing more efficiency. Books are rarely ever burned, but rather cherished.
Anything in print is often copied at any one of the ubiquitous copy shops for a very cheap price. Books are delivered to my door from Amazon.com without interference. Rumors in America are that Vietnam continues to censor and ban Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell and Fahrenheit 451 by Bradbury. This is false and narrow-mindedness.
I personally purchased in the recent year a mint copy of Nineteen Eighty-Four in a Vietnamese book store and ordered Fahrenheit 451 over the internet. The truth is: Vietnam, like Montag, has seen the necessity for knowledge. In Fahrenheit 451, Faber, an old English professor, exemplifies this state of mind of modern Vietnam and self-aware Montag: “‘The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us’” (83).
The “magic” is in the knowledge books provide to the reader and all the emotions stored up in words on a page. But as Vietnam stands on this new Age of Enlightenment there remains some hesitancy, much as Montag expressed towards the end of his journey away from society and into the wilderness, where true knowledge always resides in experience: “He was moving from an unreality that was frightening into a reality that was unreal because it was new” (Bradbury 140).
Globalization and the World Wide Web are making Bradbury’s future in Fahrenheit 451 less and less a reality. However, for his generation, his novel was a precursor to what would take place in Southeast Asia some twenty years in the future. Montag, like Vietnam, learns from the mistakes of censorship and evolve into a stronger entity, one willing to see past all the hypocrisy and desire for a better future for all men in all places and in all times, just as the sun burns each day, burning Time, changing Time for each generation it shines for and offering up a more beautiful future of literacy (Bradbury 141).
More Books to Consider:
Philip K. Dick
Bradbury, Ray. (1953) Fahrenheit 451. New York: Ballantine Books, 1991. Print.
Luong, Hy V., ed. Postwar Vietnam: Dynamics of a Transforming Society. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2003. Print.
Smith, Nga. Personal Interview. May 2010.
CG FEWSTON is an American novelist who is a member of AWP, a member of Americans for the Arts, and a professional member and advocate of the PEN American Center, advocating for the freedom of expression around the world.
CG FEWSTON has travelled across continents and visited such places as Mexico, the island of Guam, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Macau, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Singapore, Thailand, Taipei and Beitou in Taiwan, Bali in Indonesia, and Guilin and Shenzhen and Beijing in China. He also enjoys studying and learning French, Vietnamese, Cantonese and Mandarin.
CG FEWSTON earned an M.Ed. in Higher Education Leadership and Administration (honors), an M.A. in Literature (honors) from Stony Brook University, and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing and Fiction from Southern New Hampshire University, where he had the chance to work with wonderful and talented novelists, such as Richard Adams Carey (author of In the Evil Day, October 2015; and, The Philosopher Fish, 2006) and Jessica Anthony (author of Chopsticks, 2012; and, The Convalescent, 2010) as well as New York Times Best-Selling novelists Matt Bondurant (author of The Night Swimmer, 2012; and, The Wettest County in the World, 2009, made famous in the movie Lawless, 2012) and Wiley Cash (author of A Land More Kind Than Home, 2013; and, This Dark Road to Mercy, 2014).
Among many others, CG FEWSTON’S stories, photographs and essays have appeared in Sediments Literary–Arts Journal, Bohemia, Ginosko Literary Journal, GNU Journal (“Hills Like Giant Elephants”), Tendril Literary Magazine, Prachya Review (“The One Who Had It All”), Driftwood Press, The Missing Slate Literary Magazine (“Darwin Mother”), Gravel Literary Journal, Foliate Oak Magazine, The Writer’s Drawer, Moonlit Road, Nature Writing, and Travelmag: The Independent Spirit; and for several years he was a contributor to Vietnam’s national premier English newspaper, Tuoi Tre, “The Youth Newspaper.”
You can read more about CG FEWSTON and his writing at
A TIME TO LOVE IN TEHRAN won GOLD for Literary Classics’ 2015 best book in the category under ”Special Interest” for “Gender Specific – Female Audience”…
Finalist in the 2015 Chatelaine Awards for Romantic Fiction…
Finalist in the 2015 Mystery & Mayhem Novel Writing Contest…
Praise for A TIME TO LOVE IN TEHRAN:
“Fewston delivers an atmospheric and evocative thriller in which an American government secret agent must navigate fluid allegiances and murky principles in 1970s Tehran… A cerebral, fast-paced thriller.”
“A TIME TO LOVE IN TEHRAN is a thrilling adventure which takes place in pre-revolutionary Tehran. Author CG FEWSTON provides a unique glimpse into this important historical city and its rich culture during a pivotal time in its storied past. This book is so much more than a love story. Skillfully paired with a suspenseful tale of espionage, A TIME TO LOVE IN TEHRAN is a riveting study of humanity. Replete with turns & twists and a powerful finish, FEWSTON has intimately woven a tale which creates vivid pictures of the people and places in this extraordinary novel.”
CG FEWSTON‘s new novel,
A TIME TO LOVE IN TEHRAN, was published on April 2, 2015 —
10 years to the day of the publication
of his first novella, A FATHER’S SON (April 2, 2005)
“Thus one skilled at giving rise to the extraordinary
is as boundless as Heaven and Earth,
as inexhaustible as the Yellow River and the ocean.
Ending and beginning again,
like the sun and moon. Dying and then being born,
like the four seasons.”
found in Sources of Chinese Tradition, p 5