I find myself wrapped in a wool shawl in mom’s white rocking chair with Ivan Bunin’s Dark Avenues open to his short story “The Apple Fragrance”. There is no typical plot, only feelings. As a young and fresh writer, I had believed that plot twist determined the emotions that a story brought out; however, I have been taken aback by Bunin’s stories.

In the school curriculum in Russia, I had to learn his poems by heart.  Today memorizing poems is not included in many school programs and teachers no longer require it of their students. I did not expect any enjoyment from memorizing poetry, but to my own surprise, I found it a great pleasure. Memorization provided me with a platform for learning about rhythm, linguistic capacity, verbal structure and emotive connection. As Robert Pinsky once said: “I wonder if anyone who has memorized a lot of poetry … can fail to write coherent sentences and paragraphs.”

Bunin was careful with every word, every punctuation mark, and every detail. Bunin’s books served as meaningful teachers for me to rediscover the language which I have been learning my entire life and about what it means to be a writer. There’s a stanza in Bunin’s “A Word”, which I translated as:

Silent tombs, mummies and bones,-

Only words survive…

While living in Russia, Bunin wrote mostly about nature, historical figures and his impressions about other countries.   After he immigrated to France, the majority of his works were about memories of his childhood in Russia.  What is remarkable is that he wrote based only on memories.  Living abroad since my birth, I decided that when I returned to Vietnam I would write about my life in Russia. Simply just the same like Bunin when he was away from his hometown and recalled his memory to retell to readers.

When I moved to Vietnam my first “novella” was born.  I rediscovered things that I had not paid attention to before.  As the memories came flooding back to me and I transformed them into words I experienced what Bunin must have felt when he had done the same.  My “novella” about Russia was not a great success, it may have been awful. I hope my time at college in the U.S. will offer me better opportunity as I attempt, from there, to write a masterpiece about Vietnam.

“Everything can become a story. Every little detail can become a great plot,” said my teacher.  It was a Bunin sentiment. Thanks to Bunin I see the world through a writer’s eyes. I am calmer and solve problems with an open mind.  I learnt to listen not only to people, but also to the sounds of nature.

Ivan Bunin sparked a passion for literature and linguistics in me. He inspired me. He enlightened me in how to experience, how to remember, and how to live a writing life. These precious instants are the reason for my overwhelming feelings and emotions for poetry.