03/11/2020 16:04 GMT+7 Email Print Like 0

The last “book doctor” in Saigon

Vo Van Rang has restored millions of old books in his shop in Saigon for 40 years. He is now the only person restoring books in the city and is called the “doctor” for old books by his customers. 
Introduced to him by my friends, I brought a book titled “Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics” to the alley off Ly Chinh Thang street, district 3 where the 60-year-old “book doctor” lives and works. "The book was printed in 1985 and brought from the north. At present, there are fewer than 100 books like this in Vietnam", said Rang, holding my book which became rotted after a flood.

At the age of 15, Rang learned how to restore books while working for a printing press owned by his friend’s family. In 1978, Rang didn't take the university entrance exam. Instead, he became an employee in a cooperative's printing workshop. His job was sewing and binding new books, and restoring used books.

"I had polio at the age of 2 and my right leg was impaired so I couldn't make my dream of becoming a teacher come true. Binding books was a suitable job for my physical condition so I chose that," Rang recalled.

Most of customers who come to Rang’s shop are elderly people, second-hand bookshop owners or book collectors. Depending on how severe the damage to the book is, Rang has different restoring methods for each “patient”. Most of the books brought to his store are in very bad condition. With these books, Rang has to carefully disassemble each page, clean it, put it back together, then sew the spines.

This job requires care and patience. "Books published in the 1960s can be torn if I am not careful”, he said.

Rang is called the “doctor” for old books by his customers. 

Rang lives and works in a small alley off Ly Chinh Thang, district 3.

Most of the books brought to Rang's store are in very bad condition.

A customer's name is attached to the old book.

One of Rang's secrets is using glue made from tapioca.

tools include glue, needle, thread, and a paper cutting machine.

Rang carefully turns through the damaged pages.

The papers are very old.

This job requires care and patience.

Rang carefully sews the spines. 

Many young people go to Rang’s store to restore their favorite books. 

According to Rang, old book restoration was a very popular business from the 1980s-1990s. At that time, many people loved reading and keeping books. When the Internet became available, reading habits have decreased, bringing fewer customers to his shop.  

However, even when the old book restoration business was in its prime time, Rang didn’t earn much. He is paid 20,000 to 50,000 dong (1-3 US dollars) to restore a book. "All stages are done manually so even if I want to do more, I only restore a few books per day,” said Rang.

To Rang, this job is interesting because he can learn more when reading old books. “The longer we keep those precious books, the more meaningful message we can get later”, the “book doctor” said.

By Thong Hai