Vietnamese literature is an integral part of Vietnamese culture, offering profound insights into the nation’s heritage that no one can miss. In this article, let’s uncover the top works of the best Vietnamese literature, showcasing the richness and diversity of storytelling that reflects the essence of Vietnamese culture and Vietnamese people’s thoughts and love.
1. Truyen Kieu (Tale of Kieu)
When we mention Nguyen Du, an illustrious literary figure, it is impossible not to think of “Truyen Kieu” (The Tale of Kieu) – a masterpiece of Nom poetry often hailed as the finest work in Vietnamese literature throughout the ages. Through 3,254 verses, the author narrates the life story of Kieu, a beautiful, intelligent, and talented young woman who is unfortunate in love. “Beautiful women suffer unhappy fates” – Kieu’s life is a tale of suffering and hardship as she becomes a courtesan to pay off her family’s debt and save her father.
“Truyen Kieu” allows readers to witness the tragedy and irony in the life of a woman, and it also emphasizes the profound humanism present in each of Nguyen Du’s verses. It speaks to the importance of respecting our equal right to live as human beings and boldly condemns the corruption in the Vietnamese feudal society of the past.
2. Noi Buon Chien Tranh (The Sorrow of War)
The Sorrow of War is often regarded as the most emotionally profound and haunting contemporary Vietnamese literature work about the Vietnam War. It delves deep into the pain and brutality experienced by a warrior through fragmented memories.
The story revolves around Kien, a soldier working in a unit tasked with recovering the bodies of fallen soldiers. With intense, almost madly passionate love, amidst the gritty reality of human nature, Kien lives as though he is in a dream – a dream filled with blood-soaked battlefields and a life daring to pursue eternal freedom.
As the pages of the book come to a close, readers are left in a state of confusion, regret, and despair, grappling with questions about life, humanity, and the ideals we chase, which may never yield satisfactory answers no matter how diligently we seek them.
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3. So Do (Dumb Luck) – a famous Vietnamese literature work
As a masterpiece by the king of Northern Vietnam’s literary satire, Vu Trong Phung, So Do (Dumb Luck) stands out as a remarkable Vietnamese literature work that deeply reflects the reality of Vietnamese middle-class lives during the late colonial era in a satirical manner. The central character of “Dumb Luck” is Xuan Toc Do (Xuan with red hair), who starts as a wandering individual but quickly rises to the ranks of the elite thanks to the Westernization trend among Hanoi’s petite bourgeoisie at that time.
Throughout the novel, a series of satirical stories unfold, such as Xuan’s transformation from a lower-class person to a Ph.D. holder decorated as a national hero. This famous Vietnamese literature work aims to critique the misguided lifestyles of certain middle-class individuals, which led to the disruption and loss of the initial values of life.
4. Chi Pheo
Chi Pheo is a renowned short story by the author Nam Cao, considered one of the masterpieces of Vietnamese literature. It delves into the tragic fate of a poor peasant who falls victim to the callousness of society. The work vividly portrays the character Chi Pheo, initially a kind-hearted and gentle young man from the village of Vu Dai, living in a society that is part feudal and part colonial. This environment leads the young peasant down a path of sin. A chance encounter with Thi No, an ugly girl, awakens the inherent goodness in Chi Pheo’s soul.
However, the story’s conclusion leaves the reader filled with sorrow for a life that takes a cruel turn, as those dreams remain unfulfilled. Chi Pheo confronts Ba Kien, ultimately ending his own life. Through Chi Pheo’s transformation, this classic Vietnamese literary work unveils societal decay, highlighting the enduring goodness that persists within every individual, even when overshadowed by the darkness of their times.
5. Tat Den (Shut the Light)
Tat Den is considered the most successful work of the writer Ngo Tat To and a treasure of Vietnamese literature. In the work, the author successfully portrays the character of Dau – a representative of the inner beauty of Vietnamese women.
Despite the constant twists and turns of life, her strong determination shines through under the pressure of society. Her life is depicted with the most poignant and extreme strokes, with no glimmer of light throughout the entire work. Perhaps no one can forget the scene of her agonizingly parting with her child, all because of the harshness of life. The author vividly describes all of this, allowing the reader to feel the darkness and cruelty of the society of that time and evoking sympathy for the laboring peasants.
6. Vo Nhat (Picked Wife) – one of the best Vietnamese literature works
One of the literary gems in Vietnamese literature is “Vo Nhat” (Picked Wife). This work serves as an authentic documentary that allows readers to truly grasp the period known as the “1945 hunger,” a time when famine and suffering plagued the rural population to the extent that starvation deaths were a common sight.
Within the narrative, individuals like Trang, Thi, and old lady Tu endure each day with meager food resources, surrounded by the haunting specter of hunger. Yet, even in this darkness, the farmers are still willing to share, united by the dream of a brighter future. The author leaves an open ending for the characters, symbolizing a hopeful future and expressing appreciation for the aspirations and dreams that guide these struggling and suffering individuals.
7. Nhung Ngay Tho Au (Childhood Days)
Written in the first person, “Nhung Ngay Tho Au” (Childhood Days) is a sincere memoir that vividly portrays the author’s innocent and dreamy childhood, alongside the bitterness and suffering. Through eloquent yet simple and everyday language, in this Vietnamese literature work, Nguyen Hong deeply conveys the inner conflicts and emotional highs and lows of the character Hong.
As a writer dedicated to women and children, Nguyen Hong authentically paints a childhood landscape that encompasses joy, happiness, bitterness, and hardship. At the same time, he allows the reader to sense the sacred bond of maternal love while not forgetting to critique the rotten customs that have tormented the fate of women.
8. Vang Bong Mot Thoi
Nguyen Tuan was a writer who held a deep affection for Vietnamese culture, and this love is beautifully woven into his timeless work, ‘Vang Bong Mot Thoi’ – a classic Vietnamese literature work. It is regarded as a work that aspires towards perfection, enabling readers to experience the bygone way of life and the refined artistic elements of an ancient civilization.
“Vang Bong Mot Thoi” is not just a collection of stories; it is a repository of memories, a tribute, and a thread connecting people to things of the past that are gradually fading away. This popular Vietnamese literature book provides a deeper understanding of Vietnam’s ancient culture, its people, and intricate arts that hold profound significance – elements that are increasingly rare to encounter in our modern society.
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9. Doi Thua – a must-read Vietnamese literature work
Another highly successful work of Vietnamese literature by Nam Cao is ‘Doi Thua’. In this masterpiece, he demonstrates the pinnacle of character psychology description and the depth of literary quality. “Doi Thua” tells the story of Ho, an intellectual who aspires to create a lasting literary work. However, the demands of family life and the daily grind transform him from a true literary enthusiast into a hurried, superficial writer, driven by the need to compete with the harsh realities of life.
This Vietnamese literature masterpiece highlights the brutal extent to which life in such an inhumane society can trample upon an individual’s soul. Consequently, the author boldly calls for those in the intellectual class to possess a conscience that befits their profession.
10. Canh Dong Bat Tan (Endless Field)
Literature exploring the melancholy of “those who leave and those who stay” has never failed to immerse literary enthusiasts in a sense of nostalgia and profound sorrow. The Vietnamese literature work “Canh Dong Bat Tan” (Endless Field) is precisely the kind of profound literary work that allows readers to deeply empathize with these emotions.
The story revolves around the turbulent lives of three generations of the Tu family, along with a woman named Suong. They are seemingly fortunate to find one another, yet they are ultimately torn apart forever. “Canh Dong Bat Tan,” a deeply realistic work, allows readers to experience the full spectrum of human emotions, from the intense and harsh to the feelings of loneliness and despair, as seen through the lens of a young woman.
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Vietnamese literature, with its profound storytelling and cultural richness, offers a captivating journey through the heart and soul of Vietnam. It is a literary landscape that reflects the nation’s history, traditions, and enduring spirit. From the timeless verses of “The Tale of Kieu” to the impactful narratives of modern authors, Vietnamese literature books continue to inspire readers worldwide. Delving into its pages is not just a literary exploration but a gateway to understanding the essence of Vietnam’s past and present, making it an essential part of the country’s cultural tapestry.