Place, in its literary sense, can be defined in several ways. For one thing, we may define place as the physical aspect of the environment at hand. In another sense, we may define place as the environment removed from the speaker or writer. In some instances, place is the term used to describe the setting in which issues of writing and other language-related skills are housed and discussed. However In the literary world, place is usually combined with time and events to establish what is known as the social setting or the social context of a literary work. As Lodge says, “The description in a novel is never just a description “.
Each person brings their own personality, cultural background and experiences about a certain area into the process of forming a sense of place. In this case Huong’s familiarity of Vietnam and Russia. Not necessarily in just the geographical sense but Huong expresses her immense knowledge of the social and economic background of these two countries specifically the poverty in Russia and a vivid difference between the upper and lower class. From her writing the reader can collect certain characteristics about the area. for instance, the reader can gather that the geography of Russia is sparsely populated, wide, and spacious, Travel is difficult. The climate is extremely cold, but also extremely beautiful.There is a distinct difference of wealth in the society, where the rich disregard and reject the poor. Huong describes Russia’s geography most effectively through Hang’s train ride to Moscow. She depicts wide spaces, many, uniform trees as far as the eye could see, and extreme cold; as well as extreme beauty in the snowy landscape that “pierced [Hang’s] soul like sorrow.” Hang again admires moscow, when she gives us insight into the weather, the people and the streets. She says, It was five in the evening, and everything was radiant, bathed in the hazy gold sunset: the buildings, the tree-lined streets, the woods scattered through the suburbs. Even the dresses on the young girls seemed to float more seductively.” Huong paints a picture of the ideal setting where everything is perfect and just as it’s supposed to be. This can also show that the way a person looks at places continues to evolve as their life cycle develops and as the landscapes and places around them are transformed. In this case she has found great admiration in Russia. On the other hand, Sense of place can also be a persons feeling of disinterest, rejection or even placelessness to an area. This is best illustrated when Huong exhibits her sense of exile in Russia, “ Outside the sun shone, but here, I could feel the chill of exile under my skin, in my bones.” Although Houng admires Russia, she also feels a sense of disconnection from it which explains her feeling of exile. When Huong describes Vietnam, she doesn’t tend to use the same dream- like imagery as she did when describing Russia. She says, “The Noi Bai Airport[…] the swarms of people, the suffocating heat. Even worse was the anxiety, the fear that tormented these people as they went through customs formalities. Their numbed, panicky faces, their hair clammy with sweat…” . Huong’s main focus was the description of people rather than setting. This may be because Huong was so overwhelmed with the crowding of people, their facial expressions and their characteristics , that the streets and buildings that she is most often describing where not on her mind.
The descriptions Huong provides gives us insight into her personality and her views on an area. What she may describe Vietnam and Russia to be may not be the same as what another would. Her Descriptions are reflections of her memories and previous experiences. Her admiration for some areas and her distaste for others.