Nguyen Du

The Song of Kieu

The Song of Kieu

A New Lament


"This manuscript is ancient, priceless,
bamboo-rolled, perfumed with musty spices.
Sit comfortably by this good light, that you may learn
the hard-won lesson that these characters contain."

The Song of Kieu is the greatest classic of Vietnamese literature. It tells the story of the beautiful Vuong Thúy Kieu, who agrees to a financially profitable marriage in order to save her family from ruinous debts, but is tricked into working in a brothel. Her tragic career involves jealous wives, slavery, war, poverty and she becomes a nun twice. There are high points, such as when she teams up with a muscle-bound, tender-hearted rebel hero who makes her his queen and summons all her wrongdoers to account, but the ending is bittersweet.

'To the Vietnamese people themselves, [it] is much more than just a glorious heirloom from their literary past,' says Professor Alexander Woodside of the University of British Columbia. 'It has become a kind of continuing emotional laboratory in which all the great and timeless issues of personal morality and political obligation are tested and resolved.'

'For elegance and sheer readability I doubt if it could be equalled. English readers already familiar with Kieu will be delighted by its musicality. And those who have not previously encountered Kieu will wonder how such a masterpiece could so long have eluded them.' John Keay