Elevator in Sài Gòn by Thuận, translated by Nguyễn An Lý

Elevator in Sài Gòn by Thuận, translated by Nguyễn An Lý

Literature in Translation Series
Literary Fiction | Detective Fiction
Publication Date: July 9, 2024
5.25 x 8 inches
206 pages
Trade Paperback
ISBN 9781771668996

Trade Paperback
(In stock)
(In stock)

From the acclaimed author of Chinatown comes a personal and political journey through Hanoi, Sài Gòn, Paris, Pyongyang, and Seoul. Elevator in Sài Gòn is part detective story, part historical romance, part postcolonial ghost story, and a biting satire of life in a communist state.

A Vietnamese woman living in Paris travels back to Sài Gòn for her estranged mother’s funeral. Her brother had recently built a new house there and staged a grotesquely lavish ceremony for their mother to inaugurate what was rumoured to be the first elevator in a private home in the country. But shortly after the ceremony, in the middle of the night, their mother dies after mysteriously falling down the elevator shaft.

Following the funeral, the daughter becomes increasingly fascinated with her mother’s past and begins to investigate and track a mysterious figure who emerges from her notebook named Paul Polotsky. Like an amateur sleuth, she trails Polotsky through the streets of Paris as he goes about his usual routines. Meanwhile, she zigzags across France and Asia, trying to find clues to the spiralling, deepening questions her mother left behind unanswered—and perhaps unanswerable.

Praise for Elevator in Sài Gòn

“Thuận’s prose, at once expansive and claustrophobic, haunts without weighing the reader down. Across Hanoi, Saigon, Paris, Pyongyang, and Seoul, our narrator attempts to force a sense of clarity into her past, but colonialism blurs history and scripts the very fabric of existence, trapping our narrator in a seemingly endless search. Thrilling, tragic, and at times hilarious, Elevator in Sài Gòn is a postcolonial ghost story, a political satire, and a romance that will linger in the psyche long after the final descent of the elevator.” —Sheung-King, author of You Are Eating an Orange. You Are Naked. and Batshit Seven

Press Coverage

“At its heart, a book about the weight of the past and the unknowability of others, even the ones we love.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Thuận draws ingeniously on the pacing and tropes of detective fiction to craft a layered tale of family secrets. Readers will be rapt.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Elevator in Sài Gòn is a literal and structural exquisite corpse, capturing Vietnam’s eventful period from 1954 to 2004. Mimicking an elevator’s movement, the novel heightens our yearning for romance and mystery, while unflinchingly exposing such narrative shaft. Channeling Marguerite Duras and Patrick Modiano, the book also offers a dead-on tour of a society cunningly leaping from one ideological mode to the next.” —Thúy Đinh, NPR

Read an excerpt from Elevator in Sài Gòn The Dial


About the Author

THUẬN was born in 1967 in Hanoi. She studied at Pyatigorsk State University (Russia) and at the Sorbonne in Paris. She is the author of ten novels and a recipient of the Writers’ Union Prize, the highest award in Vietnamese literature. Seven of her novels were translated into French and published in France. Chinatown, her debut novel in English, won a PEN Translates Award, and was shortlisted for the 2023 Republic of Consciousness Prize. She currently lives in Paris.

NGUYỄN AN LÝ lives in Ho Chi Minh City. She has over twenty translations into Vietnamese, published under various names and in various genres, including authors such as Margaret Atwood, Donna Tartt, Kazuo Ishiguro, Richard Flanagan, Jorge Luis Borges, and the poetry in The Lord of the Rings. As an editor, she has worked on translations from Nabokov, A. S. Byatt, Roland Barthes, Joseph Campbell, Viet Thanh Nguyen, and Liu Cixin, among others. Chinatown by Thuận, her debut translation into English, won the 2023 ALTA National Translation Award in Prose. She co-founded and co-edits the independent online journal Zzz Review.