Hồ Biểu Chánh’s Posterity
The Nobility of Family Spirit
Lâm Văn Bé
…As a professor of history and a librarian, I infinitely admire Hồ Biểu Chánh, the grandfather of the authors and their mother’s father-in-law. Moreover, Hồ Biểu Chánh is also my predecessor, having had attended the same school as I did. In 1902, Hồ Biểu Chánh received a scholarship to attend first and second year at Collège de Mỹ Tho, after which he transferred to Chasseloup Laubat High School. As for me, I passed the entrance exam to Collège de Mỹ Tho exactly half a century later, although by then the name of the school had been changed to Collège Le Myre de Vilers (which was later again changed to Nguyễn Đình Chiểu High School). I later returned to this school as a teacher, then a principal. Because of these concurrent circumstances, I was honored to accept Kim-Chung’s offer to share my thoughts.
…Through the memories of Cẩm-Hồng and her extended family, I easily recognize many accurate historical events as well as many accurate aspects of Vietnamese life during the tumultuous period from 1945 to 1975.
…In this biography, we get an up-close look at watershed moments in contemporary history as if we were looking through a window into the past
…In this historic, treacherous backdrop, traversing more than a century, we follow three generations of Hồ Biểu Chánh’s family as they navigate fear, grief, and the unknown to ultimately find hope and happiness.
…But despite the sadness of this story, what stood out to me the most was the family’s strength in facing such difficulties. I was touched by the excerpt from Hồ Biểu Chánh’s autobiography in which he movingly narrates his mother’s countless sacrifices, including the time she pawned her silk gowns for three piasters so she would have enough money to send her son to school; and in another excerpt, he vows to be honest and brave and to fight the corruption around him to the utmost in his career as a high civil servant in the French government.
…I also enjoyed the letters family members wrote to one another. In one letter, Cẩm-Hồng’s father, Mr. Ba, a commoner, writes to Cẩm-Hồng’s soon-to-be father-in-law, the high dignitary Hồ Biểu Chánh. In the letter, Mr. Ba is deferential and respectful in discussing the wedding of his daughter with the high official’s son. I was especially moved by Mr. Ba’s letter to his own daughter, Cẩm-Hồng, in which he allows her to choose her own husband, and then offers her advice on how to choose wisely between her two candidates. During this time, Cẩm-Hồng also receives a letter from Mr. Lê, a father-like figure (and, surprisingly, one of the marriage candidates’ uncle), and he also gives her some gentle and concise advice on how to choose a spouse.
…To conclude my foreword, the two authors titled this book well: The Nobility of Our Hearts. This biography is a testament that, no matter how big or scattered, a family can still be unified in love and support. From grandfather Hồ Biểu Chánh to son Hồ Văn Kỳ-Trân to grandson Hồ Văn Kỳ-Thoại, three generations, spanning a century, not only survived but thrived in the midst of great hardship, and it is because of their family spirit. Their Nobility of family spirit suffused in each successive generation the desire to seek knowledge, to discern good from evil, to value honor (both individually and collectively), and above all, to love and to cherish their families and their people…
Lâm, Văn Bé (penname Lâm Vĩnh Bình)
Master of Library Science(1978), Université de Montréal
Director of District, Culture and Library Services,
City of Montreal (1980-2007)
Author of The Price of Freedom: Exodus & Diaspora of Vietnamese People and
Recipient of the Association of Vietnamese Physicians of the Free World 2014 Literature Award.
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When we lived in Vietnam, I taught you English using the historical novel Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. It’s about the story of a family living through the period of the American Civil War. Now I have just read The Nobility of Our Hearts by my dear friend Louis Tuệ Hovanky and his sister Kim-Thinh Hovanky about the biography of their mother in particular and their family in general. I wish most Americans would read it and understand how profound the gratitude of the Vietnamese people is.
Regretfully, your maternal grandmother, your mother, and your uncle (also my former teacher) are no longer alive to read the facts recorded in the biography.
Although Vietnam is very small compared to the USA, the compass of the struggle for survival is immense, from Bến Súc to Sài Gòn in Vietnam, across the Pacific Ocean, then to Austin, Texas in the USA. To me, this is also the typical story of many other Vietnamese. As a result, compared to Gone with the Wind, this biography is much more treasured and more authentic to me.
These are my sincere words of introduction and recommendation about this book.
My kind regards to your father.
Nguyen Van Ba, your former teacher