A play by Yen Vu

Tuesday, March 27, 2018
Theatrical Reading & Reception: 6PM at G76 Goldwin Smith Hall, Lewis Auditorium

Synopsis: Between October 1939 and June 1940, almost 20,000 Vietnamese men were conscripted for labor as Ouvriers non-specialisés (ONS), to come to aid the mère patrie in the war effort. Arriving first in Marseilles, they would be sent off to different cities throughout the country to work in factories, separated but nevertheless working along with other colonial subjects and French ouvriers. After the June 22 Armistice, many looked forward to repatriation, but only a quarter of the men would actually embark return ships to Vietnam due to British closing of sea lanes by the end of 1941. For those remaining in France, their labor would be leased out to private industries and most would not be repatriated until 1952. Their retention in France, even after the war ended, also led the labor camps to be incubating grounds for Trotskyist movements. And upon their return, some would remain under surveillance for rebellious activity. A number of laborers never returned to Vietnam, having found jobs, French wives, and other alternative and successful ways of integrating into French society.  

Set in Southern France toward the 1939-1940 wave of labor conscriptions, this light-hearted story follows a group of Vietnamese workers including Thanh, an ambitious youth in his early 20s who never finished his baccalaurat due to costs, Cuong, a wise forty-year-old who hides his ability to read Nietzsche regularly because of the tensions with Germany at the time, and enthusiastic Loic, renamed from Luan, who is naïve, street-smart and eager to learn. The three meet in Marseilles, sharing nothing but their last name, Tran, in common. Along with the other men, Kien, Binh, Tam, and Trung, they learn the French language, discuss the philosophies of work and freedom, and embark on possibilities open once in France.


Hoang Vu // Graduate Student, History
Cuong Pham // 2nd year in Industrial and Labor Relations
Reece Kearney // Graduate Student, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
Hannah Thompson // Graduate Student, Romance Studies
Van Le // Graduate Student, Comparative Literature
Vinh Pham // Graduate Student, Comparative Literature
Brian Balduzzi // MBA Student, Johnson School of Business
Romain Pasquier // Graduate Student, Romance Studies

In collaboration with: Cornell Council for the ArtsDepartment of Romance StudiesSociety for the Humanities, and Southeast Asia Program

Special Thanks: Reece Kearney, Nguyet Tong, Francisco Diaz Klaassen, Joël Pham, and the Romance Studies staff

Dans la zone libre Poster P