Literary fraud as Vietnamese teenage writer revealed to be middle-aged Czech man

‘White Horse, Yellow Dragon’

It was the literary sensation of the season, but now it has turned out to be little more than a hoax. The novel ‘Bílej kůň, žlutej drak’ (‘White Horse, Yellow Dragon’) by a young Vietnamese girl living in the Czech Republic won a prestigious literary prize for first-time authors and was hailed by the critics as the first testimony of her generation. But in fact the first Vietnamese novel was written by a middle-aged Czech man. Ruth Fraňková has more:

The author of the award-winning novel ‘White Horse, Yellow Dragon’, 19-year old Lan Pham Thi, received high praise this year, but it turns out the author never existed. Indeed, no one ever met her face to face, as she sent her text to the publisher via e-mail and never came to pick up her prize. At the time, it was thought she was studying abroad. Journalist Zdenko Pavelka was the first to question her authorship. What made him really intrigued, he says, was the language of the novel:

“The style and the language of the book don’t correspond with the language of today’s teenagers. It reminded me of unsuccessful books written by middle-aged authors, who try to describe a place they haven’t been to and a relationship they might have had in the distant past. There are unlikely scenes and language clichés, which I think a 19-year old girl, who didn’t grow up in a Czech speaking family would never use, since she wouldn’t know them.”

The Czech-speaking author, Jan Cempírek from České Budějovice, has not explained the motive of his actions so far, but claims the book wouldn’t have won if it wasn’t for the Vietnamese origin of the writer. Zdenko Pavelka again:

“The problem of the jury was that they confused the character in the book with the author herself. That was a trap, since they stopped assessing whether the book was good or bad. Instead, they evaluated the effort of the author and the fact that it was written by a Vietnamese. This is a general problem of Czech literary criticism, which tends to replace the authors and literary characters.”

However, the publishers were not the only ones to make a fool of themselves. Cempírek has tricked even the members of the Vietnamese community such as reader Lan Anh Myšková:

“I didn’t suspect anything at all because these things don’t happen every day, so I didn’t think about that. I liked it especially because it was written by a Vietnamese girl. I thought it was just a girl who was born in the Czech Republic, her first language was Czech so why not write a novel in Czech?”

And the way she described the Vietnamese community, did it seem realistic to you?

“Not really. But I thought it was because she was living more in the Czech community. I thought her views were a little different. So I really didn’t think of that at all. Looking back, it seems strange that no-one from the Vietnamese community knew her.”

The organizers of the competition are not going to revoke the prize but they are definitely going to be more careful next year and will no longer hand out the award before meeting the author face to face.