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The Tale of Kiều

4.24  ·  Rating details ·  967 ratings  ·  104 reviews
Since its publication in the early nineteenth century, this long narrative poem has stood unchallenged as the supreme masterpiece of Vietnamese literature. Thông’s new and absorbingly readable translation (on pages facing the Vietnamese text) is illuminated by notes that give comparative passages from the Chinese novel on which the poem was based, details on Chinese allusi ...more
Paperback, Bilingual Edition, 211 pages
Published September 10th 1987 by Yale University Press (first published 1820)
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Jul 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

"Reader, may these plain but honest words I write
brighten the long hours of your own dark night."

The Song of Kieu is often said to be the greatest literary achievement in the Vietnamese language. I confess, I have not read any other Vietnamese books (only American and British books set during, of course, the Vietnam war, as that is apparently the only way English speaking countries can even think of Vietnam), but even with my extremely limited knowledge of the country’s writing, I would not be
Dec 02, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those interested in Vietnam & its people
This is the tragic story of singer-poet Kieu (of the part of her life she lived from very late teens to around mid-30s), who suddenly has to marry to save her family from debt punishment, but is thus tricked into working in a brothel, just the first of her many misfortunes. Over the course of this surprisingly feminist and fast-paced story she survives on her way with words and her talents, becoming a queen, wife, nun, slave, victim and avenger... will she find her place in the world, and a way ...more
Jun 16, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Joey Buttafuoco & Rudy Giuliani
The Tale of Kieu is Nguyen Du’s masterpiece of Vietnamese poetry. Written at the beginning of the 19th century by a stressed-out mandarin whose beloved emperor had just been toppled, it tells the story of Kieu, a young woman who falls for the hunk next door. The hunk takes a long trip and, in his absence, Kieu’s father and brother end up in jail. The beautiful and talented Kieu must forsake her love (consummated just in time) in order to help her family, which in those days meant long stints as ...more
Kiran Bhat
Aug 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A classic of Vietnamese literature, The Tale of Kieu is an epic poem recounting the harrowing life of Thuy Kieu, and how she resigns herself to prostitution in order to ascertain a future for her family. The book was written in the 1800s, and yet has both the classical feel of an older piece, and yet the universalities and relevance of theme of a more modern piece. Du's book is considered one of the foundational narratives of Vietnamese literature, and is absolutely deserving of a read for anyon ...more
Aug 14, 2007 rated it really liked it
A must read for anyone who wants to have a deeper understanding of Vietnam. Ask anyone in Vietnam, and they'll be able to recite the first couple of lines of this classic tale, which is regarded as one of the most important works in Vietnamese literature. It's a great piece of work, written in 6/8 meter. A tale of love, loss and the human condition. ...more
Jun 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this with my dad, who was a high school Vietnamese Literature teacher with the ability to explain every single word of this masterpiece. From him I learned that Truyen Kieu is even greater a piece of classic literature than it’s taught in school - hell, schools only touched its surface. Reading and dissecting Truyen Kieu gave me new perspectives on the mother tongue that I dear. Vietnamese is a beautiful language indeed, but I tend to sigh when I think of the fact that it seems like nobod ...more
May 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A masterpiece of classical Vietnamese literature, presented in a very good scholarly (and bilingual!) edition with copious notes. Essential.
Sep 16, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: it's hard to say
Recommended to Yuki by: nearby uni's E.Asian lit curriculum, recommended by friend
The most significant and exquisite work of Vietnamese literature, The Tale of Kieu not only illustrates the tragic life of an exceptionally dignified young woman, but also epitomizes the critical condition of Vietnam during the Nguyen dynasty. The number of works of subject is not small, but Nguyễn Du did so with such strikingly bewitching prose, that I can't help but feel like the English translations are inferior and don't do it enough justice.

Trăm năm trong cõi người ta,
Chữ tài chữ mệnh khéo
Jul 18, 2009 rated it really liked it
I read the english version before I moved to Vietnam to live for one year.
rebecca ☂
i'm obsessed! ...more
Michael Haase
Aug 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
The Tale of Kieu -- I'm not sure what to call this work. Though it's written in Vietnamese and is considered central to Vietnamese literature, I'm reluctant to call it Vietnamese as it's based on a Chinese novel; and though it's sometimes regarded as an epic poem, and is after all too long to be a ballad, it's much different from the traditional sense of epic poetry. There are no mythical creatures or supernatural phenomena, and instead of depicting colossal events, the scale is narrowed to focu ...more
Christopher Donaghue
Mar 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I've seen this work be referred to as an epic poem online. It lacks most of the standard accoutrements of that style, but yet it still feels a fitting descriptor. If anything, it feels all the more pure for that.

The Penguin Classics version I just completed offered a read more pleasant than most. Lyrical, poetic, rich in allusions to Chinese culture, with lengthy notes to provide context to the Western reader. The story flows from one episode of Kieu's tribulations to the next with remarkable e
Scott Cox
Jan 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
"This we have learned: with Heaven rest all things. Heaven appoints each human to a place . . . Our karma we must carry as our lot - let's stop decrying Heaven's whims and quirks. Inside ourselves there lies the root of good: the heart outweighs all talents on this earth" (p.167). This provides an excellent summary statement regarding "The Tale of Ki?u." The story, written about 1800, is considered classic Vietnamese literature. Indeed it is. The language is exquisite; replete with Vietnamese an ...more
Jan 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A poem of breathtaking meditative beauty that tells the harrowing story of a prostitute with a heart of gold and all her myriad misadventures. The upsetting moments are counterbalanced by a glimmer of hope in the cause and effect cosmos that dictate the vicissitudes of this life of this woman of constant sorrows. "Dawn succeeds / the dark," as the poet puts it, and in the end we must endure. "When yin reaches its extreme, yang returns." There is much to be learned about the Vietnamese sensibilit ...more
Kim Nguyen
Aug 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is truly a masterpiece of Vietnamese literature. I read this book at school when I was in Vietnam and absolutely loved it. It showed people how life was back in the old time and how much sacrifice a woman must make for her family, even if it means taking away everything she has :love, friendship, siblings.
Linda Le
Oct 12, 2010 rated it really liked it
i'm still not done reading this book. i would prefer to find an audio recording bc the poetry needs to be played aloud in order to fully be appreciated ...more
Feb 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: good-shit
ok........ homer is shaking in his grave
I'm not sure how I didn't review this when I read it mid-July but I loved it. Definitely highly recommend if historical texts/legends are your thing. ...more
Sep 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was just...sucha a good story from start to finish. I quickly read it, but it would be interesting to go back and study this more in depth. Maybe someday.
Jun 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dec 11, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Nguyen Du's The Tale of Kieu is the most famous and important work in all of Vietnamese literature, published around 1820. I've lived in Vietnam for almost six years now and figured I should read it. Penguin has released this new translation, which seemed like a good excuse.

Kieu is an epic poem, around 150 pages, about the life of Kieu, a beautiful and talented young girl in her late teens. When her father is falsely accused of not paying off a debt (which would see him put in debtor's priso
Feb 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
So many times I have read scholars repeating what I now realize mostly came from Huỳnh Sanh Thông. Though his interpretation is sound and needn't be discounted, now I see there is a wider scope of readings possible. Though I will discuss this in the review of Aimee Phan's novel, Truyền Kiều is incontrovertibly a source text of Vietnamese diasporic writers from Le Ly Hayslip to Linh Dinh. I am working through Lan Duong's alternative interpretations and also looking forward to watching Trinh T Min ...more
Curtis R
Sep 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: asian-lit, fiction, poetry
An exemplary and extended look into the culture and country in which I'm currently residing, this ultra classic Vietnamese epic poem (no really, its an epic narrative poem) gave me an interesting insight into so many of the values of my host country.

I was able to compare the elegant translation with the original side by side, which added to the beauty (and occasional bewilderment).

The story itself is very multi-faceted, though it simply traces the journey of Kieu over the course of 15 years of
Jul 16, 2020 rated it liked it
This book was recommended to me by a Vietnamese friend because she knows I read a lot, and I do read World Literature. I am debating between 3 and 4 stars, but for now I will leave it at 3.
There were some parts that felt drawn out for me, but that can be expected with these types of epic poems; overall, I enjoyed it.

Of course, I cannot say that I could relate with some social issues of the storyline or that I did not find certain norms and customs cringe-worthy. However, which culture at one p
Feb 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Vietnamese Shakespeare - a must read for understanding overall Vietnamese culture (according to the editor). Eminently quotable for all occasions. In prose form, but easy to read. The translation reads like art - it almost makes me want to learn Vietnamese so I could experience the beauty of this work in its original form. The characters, especially the protagonist, are a bit fatalistic, which will probably wear a bit thin on you if you are a Western reader, but the poem is set in 18th/19th cent ...more
Oct 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This was simply amazing. Heartbreaking and exquisite. It's easy to see why it is such a pillar of Vietnamese literature. The tale was gripping, the language very controlled within the poetic structure, yet so full of meaning, revealing character, feeling and culture. Beautiful! The book was presented with the Vietnamese text on one page and the English translation opposite. There was a helpful introduction, and at the back a very useful section of notes on the text, explaining meanings and refer ...more
Mar 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Kieu sacrifices herself for her family, and her tragic life begins to unfold around her. This book is a poetic rendering of Vietnamese legends combined with the story of Kieu, a young woman who is victimized at every turn in her life. The beauty of this work is the very sensual diction that describes Kieu's relationship with her beloved soulmate. The author uses the imagery of nature to portray Kieu's beauty and sensuality. Kieu and her lover are separated for many years through no fault of thei ...more
I generally do not like poetry, or epic poems. But this book was mention in a book I read (Catfish and Mandala) as the national poem of Vietnam because it embodies sacrifice for family. I ended up enjoying it. Not something I could read again, but still good. ...more
Oct 31, 2009 added it
Recommends it for: an elegy underneath jungle canopy
Recommended to Jack by: some guy who can't even balance his check book but the pages kee
in this incredible laboratory of morality, and politics i think about a papa son who was fishing on the north bank of the perfume river in hue; i didn't plan to stop but when i did he asked me about walt whitman and realized he knew more about a great american poet than i did. later that day i remember being pinned down by the enemy and my friend was wounded bad, saying over and over , mamma,mamma. so i read this masterpiece of literature and each page i turn turns my heart. ...more
"I have dipped my hand in indigo..." The introduction is a mess, at points a broad and unfocused history lecture ostensibly aimed at laymen, minutiae that would alienate any layman still following (who needs the characters for sea ban?), and coy anecdotes likely inserted more because they tickled the writer's fancy than because of their tangential relation to Kieu's context. But the poetry is superb, and a credit to the translator. ...more
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Nguyễn Du (1766–1820), tên tự Tố Như (素如), hiệu Thanh Hiên (清軒), biệt hiệu Hồng Sơn lạp hộ (鴻山獵戶), Nam Hải điếu đồ (南海釣屠), là một nhà thơ, nhà văn hóa lớn thời Lê mạt, Nguyễn sơ ở Việt Nam. Ông được người Việt kính trọng tôn xưng là "Đại thi hào dân tộc".[1]

Tác phẩm Truyện Kiều của ông được xem là một kiệt tác văn học, một trong những thành tựu tiêu biểu nhất trong nền văn học trung đại Việt Nam.


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61 likes · 27 comments
“Across his shoulder
is a bag stuffed with wind and moonlight,
which is what the world calls poetry.”
“She says: ‘We are cursed,
who are born beneath the peach blossom
and fated to work these green pavilions.
I thought I had escaped them,
but the breeze has blown me back.
To understand life is to know despair.
Genius and beauty are worthless:
they make heaven jealous.
I had filtered my springwater with alum:
it bubbles now with muck and mud.
The potter’s wheel torments all women:
it spins and spins, without throwing us off.
When I left home, I accepted my fate:
but why must destiny still hack away
at a rose already shredded?
Half my youth is gone too soon.
I’ll offer up the rest of it.
I’ll end my young days here.”
More quotes…