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The Short Form

The Origin of Vietnamese Prose

Linh Dinh on the origins of Vietnamese prose:

Many writers shunted their mother tongue to compose in French, the language they were taught in the lycees. To those who chose this option, the critic Pham Quynh warned: “In borrowing someone's language, you are also borrowing his ideas, literary techniques—even his emotions and customs.” After centuries of writing in Chinese, the Vietnamese had produced no Li Po, Quynh pointed out, and writing in French, it is unlikely that they will ever produce a Victor Hugo or an Anatole France. After reading a story in French, the critic suggested, as an exercise, to try retelling it to one's wife in Vietnamese.