Schafer Publishes Book About Vo Phien

HSU Emeritus English Professor John Schafer recently celebrated the publication of his book "Vo Phien and Sadness of Exile," the first ever book-length study of a modern Vietnamese writer, written in English.

Dr. Schafer, a graduate of Yale, Harvard, and University of Michigan, describes the life and work of Vo Phien, a writer well-known in South Vietnam before coming to the U.S. as a refugee in 1975. He has continued to write from the United States, becoming arguably the most admired writer of the Vietnamese diaspora. Vo Phien’s works are entirely written in Vietnamese and, until Schafer’s book, only few have been translated into English. Schafer summarizes stories and essays and translated key passages to help readers better appreciate Vo Phien’s major themes and writing style.

Vo Phien first caught the attention of Vietnamese readers with short stories set in central Vietnam during the period after Ho Chi Minh’s declaration of independence in 1945 and described events during and after the first Indochina war against the French. Later, while living in Saigon, he wrote essays about Vietnamese culture and stories of the American war. After arriving in America he took on the topic of American culture, trying to help fellow refugees understand what he himself found bewildering and more than a little terrifying.

Vo Phien’s stories and essays describe how revolution, war, and foreign intervention disrupted the lives of simple villagers and through Schafer’s account of these works, it is clear how these same events influenced Vo Phien’s own life and literary career.

Peter Zinoman, an associate professor of Southeast Asian history at UC Berkeley, says, “John Schafer’s ‘Vo Phien and the Sadness of Exile’ is essential reading for students of modern Vietnamese literary history as well as a major contribution to scholarship on post-colonial literature, Asian-American studies, and the social and cultural history of the Vietnam War.”

“Vo Phien and the Sadness of Exile,” (Southeast Asia Publications, Northern Illinois University) is available in the Humboldt State University Bookstore for $28.

For more information, contact John C. Schafer at