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Read Your Way Through Hanoi

I highly recommend Last Night I Dreamed of Peace,” the diary of Dang Thuy Tram, who was killed on the battlefield at the age of 27 while working as a doctor during the Vietnam War. Her diary was brought back to the United States by an American military intelligence officer, Frederic Whitehurst. Thirty-five years later, in 2005, the diary was returned to her family in Hanoi, then published to international acclaim.

Another female writer whose work I admire is Le Minh Khue, whose short story collection The Stars, The Earth, The River is mainly set in Hanoi’s working-class neighborhoods and depicts a grittier city.

The Vietnamese poet Phung Quan once wrote, “During the moments of difficulties, I hold on to the verse of poetry and pull myself up.” Poetry is a pillar of Vietnamese life and, as you walk around Hanoi, you can listen to “Lanterns Hanging on the Wind,” a two-part, bilingual radio program celebrating Vietnamese poetry. The Vietnamese versions of the poems are read by the authors, and the English translations are read by Jennifer Fossenbell, an American poet.

While spending time Hanoi, you may find yourself on Hai Ba Trung Street, named after two warrior sisters who, according to legend, rode on the backs of elephants, leading an army of mostly women to defeat the Chinese colonizers around A.D. 40. The audiobook of Phong Nguyen’s “Bronze Drum,” narrated beautifully by Quyen Ngo, will transport you into the lives of the Trung sisters.

Hanoi’s 19/12 Street, dedicated to books and booksellers, is right next to the historic Hoa Lo Prison, nicknamed the “Hanoi Hilton” by U.S. prisoners of war. Local book companies and publishers have stores along the thoroughfare, displaying and selling their titles. As you walk under the green canopies of ancient trees, reflect on this fact: This street used to be a busy market — the Underworld Market — named for the mass graves of victims killed during the Anti-French Resistance War.

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Mohammad SHiblu

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