You must have known by now that Vietnamese don’t read a lot. But among those who do, the book choices they make can really surprise you sometimes.
At a recent book festival in Hanoi, an annual event aimed to keep the reading culture and the publishing industry alive, most of the bestsellers have been titles for children and teenagers. This is a trend that has been around for a while in the relatively small and cautious industry.
And yet one thick book weighing nearly a kilogram has managed to crack through: the five-year old memoir of the late Singapore leader Lee Kuan Yew, “The Singapore Story.”
The Vietnamese translation is set for an official national launch later this month, but the limited release at the Hanoi book fest has already been declared a success, even though sales figures provided by publishers and distributors in Vietnam are difficult to verify.
If the book, which made global headlines when first published in English in 2012, is indeed a hit, it is just extra proof of the unwavering interest among Vietnamese in Singapore’s magical journey of modernization – one that officials in Ho Chi Minh City appear to be eagerly trying to emulate.
Lee, who died aged 91 in 2015, is known internationally as the founding father of modern Singapore who helped turn it from a small British trading port into one of the world's wealthiest countries and a truly global city.
Ties between Vietnam and Singapore have always been healthy. His son, Lee Hsien Loong, Singapore's third and current prime minister, visited Vietnam last month and was warmly welcomed.
It should also be noted that Vietnamese readers generally connect well with books written by or about global leaders. During the U.S. presidential election last year, publishers churned out titles about Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump at dizzying speeds. (And yes, “The Art of the Deal” has been translated into Vietnamese, if that’s what you are wondering.)
Now all eyes should be on the upcoming books from the Obamas.