Linda Lê

Linda Le

I like words to be incandescent and books to be infernos

– Linda Lê

Relatively unknown to the general public yet critically highly-acclaimed, Linda Lê was born to a Vietnamese father and French mother in Dalat in 1963. Her family fled from North Vietnamese troops in 1968 and Lê moved to France with her mother in 1977. For the next twenty years she maintained an intimate correspondence with her father who had stayed behind, and in fact never saw him again. Deeply distressed by his death in 1995, she mourned him as her ‘ideal reader’. As a teenager in France, she discovered the refuge of reading and writing, later saying that literature has the power to ‘save whoever approaches it’ (in an interview with Catharine Argand, Lire, April 1999). She published her first novel at the age of just 23, and has since gained critical acclaim and won awards including the Prix Wepler in 2010 for the featured title, Cronos. Although she does not like to see her work described as simply autobiographical, she frankly admits that her writing is a way of ‘bringing back to life individuals that I have met along the way’ (in an interview with Télérama, 2010). It is no surprise then that many of the recurrent themes of her novels also seem to stem from the traumas of her childhood in troubled Vietnam and from the absence and subsequent loss of her father. Death, severed limbs, separation, correspondence by letter and salvation through reading scatter her sometimes macabre, often disturbing but always intelligent writing.

Featured reading group title


Christian Bourgois, 2010, 168 pages. Prix Wepler 2010 winner

Zaroffcity is under the iron rule of the Grand Guide and his minister Karaci, aptly nicknamed the Hyena. In the midst of the horrors of dictatorship, one voice rings out: Una, forced into a marriage of misery with the Hyena in order to save her beloved father from the regime, tells the tale of her peoples’ woes and purges her own outrage and heartbreak in a series of impassioned letters to her exiled brother. The universality of this fable of corruption, compromise and cruelly silenced rebellion is brought alive by insights into Una’s own deeply troubled plight and her growing love for an insurgent. As she learns that she is to become a mother, will she find the courage to stand up to those who oppress her?

Interwoven with underlying reference to the legacy of the Cronos myth and its complex relationships, as well as to the dictatorship of Lê’s own background, this work is suffused by a unique blend of ferocity and intimacy… an inferno? Perhaps.

More information

  • Listen to Linda Lê read a passage from Cronos in French. Her soft, almost hypnotic voice belies the simmering intensity of her prose as she reads one of Una’s letters to her brother.
  • Read one of Lê’s earlier novels translated into English: Slander (Calomnies), trans. Esther Allen (Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1996).
  • Find out more about her life at the University of London’s Contemporary Women’s Writing in French website.
  • [download id=”28″ format=”1″]
  • [download id=”34″ format=”1″] taken from Chapter 1 (pp.7-12; 16-17) and Chapter 2 (pp. 23-26). Translated by Clare Horackova.
  • If you’ve read the book or the translated extracts, let us know what you think by commenting below.

One Comment

  1. Clare Horackova says:

    Le has said that language has the power to ‘burn’, and when translating the extract from Cronos for the website, I discovered her ability to use words almost as if they were weapons. Her choice of vocabulary is incredible, ranging from the grotesque to the arcane and erudite. The brutality of her blunt narration of the hellish savagery of the regime is balanced by the intimate gentleness of Una’s letters to her exiled brother, and the contrast between the two voices plays throughout the novel, so that as a reader I was constantly moving between nauseous horror and fragile hope.
    I think it is interesting that two of the books on the reading list deal with political totalitarianism. Whilst Cronos is inspired by the evils of an imaginary dictatorship, the novel by Popescu looks at the realities and aftermath of the Romanian socialist regime. Both written from an exile/emigre’s point of view, yet so different in tone and style, they make interesting reading together.
    From a translator’s point of view, this novel is certainly a challenge – and that’s probably part of what makes it so exciting!


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