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Balzac's relevance in modern Viet Nam

It is an unexpected bonus for Vietnamese literature students and readers in general. The Vietnamese translation of the complete series of Comédie Humaine by Balzac has begun (The Gioi Publishers). 

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This publication marks not only the 200th birth anniversary of one of the greatest novelists of all time but also a new development in Franco-Vietnamese cultural relations.
Let us recall that Comédie Humaine (Human Comedy) is the title of a collection of a hundred novels presenting scenes from private lives, provincial life, Parisian life, pastoral life, political life and military life.
Analytical and philosophical studies complete this immense edifice.
Andre Rouveyre was right when he said: “Balzac is not a precursor. He is the creator of the modem world. That is why all the young authors of today must go through him.”
Balzac is not unknown in Viet Nam. In the French colonial days, his works were included in junior high schools and secondary education programmes. I remember having once read the translation of La Peau de chagrin in a collection of very low priced pocket books called Pensée de L’Occident directed by Nguyen Van Vinh. I was thirteen or fourteen years old then. Later a dozen or so of Balzac’s novels had been translated somewhere before and after the 1945 Revolution.
My friend Le Hong Sam, who supervised the translation work, has enlisted an excellent team of translators aged between thirty and eighty. She has taught Balzac for many years at the Ha Noi University. Her first experiences of Balzac with her students, which go back to the sixties, seems baffling today.
She had once told me: "The society and people painted by the great master of realism hold only a historic interest for my students and for myself. They do not touch us even indirectly. Their problems are totally alien to us.”
In fact, Viet Nam of that epoch was preoccupied with other concerns. After the 1945 Revolution, which put an end to eighty years of French colonisation, the country had to wage a war of resistance for nine years to preserve the independence. The nation was thereafter divided in two. The fragile peace agreement inked in Geneva in 1954 only led to the war of resistance against the Americans with a view to national reunification. In a nation united as one man for a common cause, there was no place for individualism all the more so when the Confucian community tradition had been reinforced by the Marxist equity. The war-time economy led by the State distributed poverty with a certain equity. There was nothing in common between this Spartan society in northern Viet Nam and the Balzacian society made of ambitious persons, imposters and rogues, the stock exchange, power and love.
There have been enormous changes in the country since the end of the war and the pullout of the Americans in 1975, but most marked have been the changes since the adoption of the renewal (doi moi) policy in 1986.
This reform process has basically two parts: adoption of the market economy in place of the strictly planned State economy and opening doors to all countries in the world. The reform has helped the country get out of a grave socioeconomic crisis lasting more than 15 years (1980-1995). The economic situation has improved considerably and along with it, the people’s living standards.
But every rose has its thorn. The individualism let loose by the free market and the opening of doors to negative foreign influences (sexuality, violence and drugs, etc.) have ravaged the social fabric of the nation. A largely puritan society until yesterday, Viet Nam is today witnessing the frantic scramble after money, rampant corruption, unprecedented family dramas and widespread growth of social vices.
Says Le Hong Sam: “With these social changes, I think that Balzac has become a topical subject in Viet Nam. Balzac might help us calm down human passions and check our selfishness and immoral individualism. Viet Nam must try to achieve a balance between economic development and cultural development.”
However, if you still want to explore Asia, the site below will help you:
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Update : 27-03-2018


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