Archive | October 2014

Book 13: Vietnam: The Tale of Kieu = Truyện Kiều (NGUYỄN Du)

This long narrative poem is generally considered the greatest work of Vietnamese literature and, in fact, the work that liberated the country’s language and literature from the dominance of classical Chinese. I find it amazing that so many countries’ literatures begin, comet-like, with their greatest work, which fills me with wonder at their authors who not only reached stellar heights in their art, but, simultaneously, effectively created their medium. Surprisingly for what can be considered the Vietnamese national epic, the action takes place in China (and it was based on a Chinese original). Vietnam and China don’t always get on! Surprisingly, the national heroine, Kiều, is a prostitute. The is basically her tragic love story. Kiều becomes a symbol of the suffering of injustice that Vietnam has had to put up with throughout its history (again ironical, considering that the story was originally Chinese).
This is a bilingual edition which I read in English. As with any poem, you lose a great deal reading it in translation – the introductory essay gives you an inkling of just how rich and clever the original is. Considering that it is such a long poem, it reads very easily and attractively in this translation.

 

NGUYEN Du (1765 – 1820), The Tale of Kieu: a bilingual edition of Truyện Kiều, translated by Huỳnh Sanh Thông, Yale, New Haven/London, 1983, ISBN 978-0-300-04051-7