In The Lover's footsteps

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For those charmed by Marguerite Duras' acclaimed novel "The Lover" (L'amant), or the subsequent Jean-Jacques Annaud film of the same name, Sa Dec in Dong Thap Province is a must-see.

In the small Mekong Delta town, 140 kilometers south of Ho Chi Minh City, you can visit the house of Huynh Thuy Le, Dumas' former lover on whom "The Lover" was based.

Le was the inspiration behind, Duras autobiographical tale in which a teenage girl falls in love with a rich Chinese -Vietnamese trader.

The love affair between 15-yearold Duras, born in Gia Dinh (then called Saigon, now HCMC) in 1914, and 27-year-old Le began in 1929. But Le's father, Huynh Thuan, disapproved, claiming that the two families belonged to different social classes. Duras then left Vietnam for France before her 18th birthday.

THE LOVER: PLOT SUMMARY

In 1929, a 15 year old French girl, the daughter of a bankrupt colonial widow in the Mekong Delta town of Sa Dec, becomes the lover of a 27-year-old son of a Chinese business magnate.

Their tumultuous affair lasts until he bows to the disapproval of his father and ends the relationship.

The man has no question of the trueness of his feelings, but it isn't until much later that the girl acknowledges that she loved him as well.

Those interested in "The Lover" novel can trace its roots to Sa Dec. Anyone who has seen the film will recognize the setting when they visit the small town dotted with old French villas.

Tourists can book a tour at Dong Thap Tourist Company. Meanwhile, lone travelers can find English or French-speaking guides at Le's house.

The tour's other destination includes Trung Vuong Sa Dec Primary School, where Mrs Marie Donnadieu Duras' mother taught from 1924 to 1930, and Ong Quach Pagoda.

Le's 115-year-old house attracts more than 1,000 tourists a month, half of them French, said Nguyen Thi Nga, general director of Dong Thap Tourist Comany, which offers a tour of the villa titled "Following the footsteps of "˜The Lover.'" Nga said the number of foreigners visiting the house increased considerably after Tet (Lunar New Year), which fell in mid-February this year, with some 100 visitors a day.

Located at 225A Nguyen Hue Street, Ward 2, the home was first built in 1895 by Huynh Thuy Le's father. Le restored it in 1917.

The "Lovers' House" as Sa Dec locals call it, combines Western and Eastern architecture. The Western influence can be seen in the facade of the house and in the Renaissance-style ceiling and balconies. However, the structure of the house was designed in the typical Vietnamese tradition. The roof is tiled in the style of the pagodas and temples of northern Vietnam.

The 258-square meter house has three main rooms and is adorned with old Chinese-style decorations. The interior has red lacquer and gold trimming.

TOUR ORGANIZERS

Dong Thap Tourist Company
178 Nguyen Hue Street, Cao Lanh Town, Dong Thap Province
Tel: (067) 3 852 136 - 3 855 744
Fax: (067) 3 855 639
Website: www.dongthaptourist.com
Email: dothatour@dongthaptourist.com

Tourism Operating Center
2 Doc Binh Kieu Street, Ward 2,
Cao Lanh Town, Dong Thap Province
Tel: (067) 3 855 637 - 3 873 026
Fax: (067) 3 855 744
Email: dothatour@vnn.vn

The middle room is composed mainly of an altar to Guan Yu, a Chinese general serving under the warlord Liu Bei during the late Eastern Han Dynasty and Three Kingdoms era of China. In many Asian countries, Yu is worshipped as a symbol of loyalty, sincerity, integrity and justice.

The house was used by Huynh Thuy Le's family until 1972, when Le died and his family went abroad. The villa is now managed by Dong Thap Tourist Company.

Duras died in Paris in 1996, after a long literary career. Her first novel was published when she was 28 and she wrote in many genres, including essays, plays, film screenplays and journalism.

She published "The Lover" in 1984 and it has since been translated into more than 40 languages.

The novel also won one of France's most prestigious literary awards, the Prix Goncourt, in 1984. It was adapted into a film in 1992, directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud, starring Jane March and Tony Leung Ka Fai.

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