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Review: The tale of Kieu

Editorial Review - Kirkus Reviews

A long narrative poem by Nguyen Du, an early 19th-century classicist and scholar, which has become to the Vietnamese people, suggests Alexander Woodside, ""much more than a glorious heirloom. . . but a kind of continuing emotional laboratory,"" from which the average Vietnamese is able to quote as freely as we recite Service, perhaps, or ""The Midnight Ride."" Given the typical Westerner's awesome ignorance of the mores, religion, and literary heritage of the Vietnamese (a lively introduction points up the thrust of puns, allusions and stylistic niceties), the saga of Kieu is nonetheless instantly recognizable as a rich folk/literary landmark. This is the tale of a victim, Kieu, a more subtly acute female version of the Western masculine hero marked by destiny. She is chosen to tempt Heaven: ""O curse the frailty of a human need -- how bear beauty and talent, too?"" To save her family Kieu sells herself into prostitution, is deceived and humiliated time after time until her loyal love and decisions on the side of right bring her at last to peace. As translated by Mr. Thong, the poem's dialogue is sprightly and colloquial (""Now that the cloth has lost its glaze and starch,/ there goes to hell the money I put up!""), the villains have that redeeming dram of acidulous humor and poor Kieu's laments are relieved by sensuous scenic images or an oncoming new adventure. Symbolism aside, there is a curious and fresh appeal to this tale in which ""countless Vietnamese men and women. . . see themselves as Kieu, victim of a perverse fate."" Rewarding but special.

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bựa nhn như hi

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Horrible English translation of the beautiful poems. There are other great English editions available.

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Great job from the late Sanh Thong Huynh.
We all are indebted to Mr. Huynh for this bilingual edition. Personally, being a graduate (of a later generation) of Petrus Truong Vinh Ky high school
, I'm so proud of Mr. Huynh and the heritage he helped preserve.
Rằng: Hay th thật l hay
nghe ra ngậm đắng nuốt cay thế no
Nguyễn Du
 

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