Exile: Rupture and Continuity in Jean Vanmai's Chan Dang and Fils de Chan Dang

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Tess Do


This essay focuses on the work of the New Caledonian-born writer Jean Vanmai. His first two novels, Chan Dang and Fils de Chan Dang, describe the working conditions and exilic existence of the little known Chan Dang, the voluntary workers from Tonkin (North Vietnam) who moved to New Caledonia many decades ago. Descended himself from a Chan Dang family, Vanmai wishes to preserve the memory of the Chan DangDang’s past. In writing the story of the Chan Dang, Vanmai sees himself as the guardian of the Chan Dang’s collective memory, a keeper and defender of their common past. The paper argues that Vanmai's depictions of the Chan Dang have two important effects. First, by sharing with other Vietnamese migrants/refugees the life and experiences of the Tonkinese voluntary workers in New Caledonia, Vanmai breaks the silence surrounding colonial exile and exploitation and provides a full account of the Chan Dang’s exile that can be integrated into the contemporary history of Vietnamese migration. Second, by using different narrative resolutions for each of his protagonists, Vanmai stresses the need to fulfil one’s filial duty among the young Vietnamese generations. With this symbolic filial act, Vanmai pays homage to his Vietnamese ancestors and earns himself a honourable title, that of a true dutiful "son of Chan Dang".

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Author Biography

Tess Do, University of Melbourne

Tess Do teaches in the French and Italian Studies department at the University of Melbourne. She completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Auckland, and obtained her Ph.D. at the University of Western Ontario. She later did post-doctorate research at the University of Queensland. Her current areas of research interest include: Francophone and post-colonial studies; Franco-Vietnamese literature (Linda L