Her own identity

Multiple roles Anna Moi

Multiple roles Anna Moi   | Photo Credit: Photo: S. Thanthoni

Anna Moi who belongs to several places, speaks many languages and dabbles in many arts

Anna Moi is a lot of different people — an author who’s written three French novels, a musician trained in Western classical who sings in Vietnamese, and a fashion designer in Paris who had her own line of prêt-a-porter clothing in Vietnam. And she doesn’t feel the need to link all these disparate elements of herself into a single thread.

“I think we’re complex personalities, and we’re fortunate to be able to do several things,” says Anna, who recently visited Chennai, invited by the Alliance Francaise.

That complexity extends to Anna’s cultural identity as well. A linguist who speaks Thai and Japanese in addition to Vietnamese, French and English, she was born in Vietnam in 1955, but became a foreigner in her own country in the 1970s.

“I was in France on scholarship when the communists took over Vietnam. I lost my passport, and was stuck in France for many years before Vietnam let me back in as a foreigner,” she says. “Even today, I only have a French passport. But I’m not sure if I’m considered French in France; not quite.”

Her lack of a fixed identity troubled her until she began to write, she says: “My books help me negotiate my identity — my country is the country of my books, the countries I invent.”

If her novels — Black Rice (2004), Raptor (2005), Violin (2006) — helped her find her identity, music helped her find the performer within. “I discovered my voice only in my 40s, when an Italian tenor gave me lessons in Saigon,” she says. “It was like some door was flung open — if I could start singing at 40, I could do anything!”

True to form, she sings not in Italian but in Vietnamese, songs of love and war that “cut deep into the Vietnamese soul.” And similarly, the line of clothing she used to design in Paris, and later in Vietnam, were a blend of East and West, using casual lines and natural fabrics.

She no longer has a store in Vietnam, but that might change in the near future — after all, she revels in the freedom of not belonging to any one place or restricting herself to a single medium of self-expression.


Recommended for you