Vo Que’s poems are co-translated by Fred Marchant and Nguyen Ba Chung.
This bi-lingual edition of the “Prison Songs” also contains essays by Fred Marchant and To Nhuan Vy.
Vo Que was born in Hue, Vietnam, in 1948, and was a student leader during the years of the American war. He was arrested by the Saigon government, and imprisoned for a year on Con Dao Island. He wrote these poems during his imprisonment. He is the author of several books of poetry, memoirs, plays, and fiction, and has garnered many literary awards. He is also a renowned singer of classical and folkloric Vietnamese songs, especially the music of his native region around the Perfume (Huong) River which runs through Hue City in Central Vietnam.
Con Dao Prison
Côn Đảo Prison (Vietnamese: Nhà tù Côn Đảo), also known as Côn Sơn Prison, is a prison on Côn Sơn Island the largest island of the Côn Đảo archipelago in southern Vietnam. Built in 1861 by the French colonial administrators, it was primarily used to hold Vietnamese political opponents of the French. During the years of the United States-Vietnam War, the Sai Gon regime continued that tradition, using it to jail political dissidents, including Buddhist monks. The prison became infamous for its “tiger cages”–five foot by nine foot enclosures where prisoners were shackled, often starved, beaten, and tortured. Approximately 20,000 men and women perished in Con Dao Prison–summarized from Don Luce‘s essay, “The Tiger Cages of Viet Nam,” available online at https://www.historiansagainstwar.org/resources/torture/luce.html
This book is distributed only in Vietnam, but copies are available from the translator.
The sound of fear, the sound of misery:
a midnight bell that points to the distant moon.
A net of all that is wrong drapes over my soul
as the prisoner deep in his cave steels his will.