The Lover

After walking through the lively and vibrant Sa Dec Market, we visited the former home of the eponymous lover from Marguerite Duras' famous novel. This semi-autobiographical tome draws upon her experience growing up in Vietnam where, as a teenaged girl, she became romantically involved with a Chinese man twelve years her senior. From what I understand, the novel - despite its Lolita undertones - is largely romantic and tragic, because ultimately the literary couple doesn't end up together. But throughout her life, Duras - as many of us do, changed her own story multiple times.

Displeased with the film adaptation of The Lover (which our guide screened in the dining cabin one night and a fellow passenger subsequently deemed "soft porn"), she later published The North China Lover, which was billed as a more detailed and "truer" account of the relationship. Notebooks that were posthumously made public, however, paint an altogether different portrait, with one passage describing the "revulsion" she felt after their first kiss (see: Wartime Writings). These lesser known writings hint at possible sexual and emotional abuse, even prostitution.

Duras passed away in 1996, and with her left the truth regarding the nature of the affair. Undoubtedly, how she felt about it as an adolescent, as it was unfolding, differs from how she must have felt as an adult. She was seventy when the first fictionalized iteration was published; seventy-seven when the second came out. Both novels probably served as attempts to come to terms with the relationship; to figure out and clarify her feelings, perhaps even find some profound conclusion.

As we toured the beautiful old home, with its floors warped with age, intricate craftsmanship belying aristocratic wealth, and black and white photographs of both Duras and Huynh Thuy Le, sipping jasmine tea while listening to our guide wax romantic about the ill-fated lovers, I was reminded of my own failed relationships.

Each time things doesn't work out we want there to be some deeper meaning or lesson learned, so it's not just time wasted and feelings spent. But maybe a solution or antidote doesn't exist. Maybe the leftover pieces are just a burden that remains with us. For as Duras' experience seems to suggest, even a lifetime is not enough to make sense of something so raw and intimate.