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"The Novel Emerges in Cochinchina"

Until the late 1980s and early 1990s Vietnamese literary historians, most of them northerners, argued that the Vietnamese novel began in the north with Hoang Ngoc Phach’s To Tam (Pure Heart) and Nguyen Trong Thuat’s Qua dua do (The Red Melon). Both these novels were published in 1925. The authors of this article, published in 1993, explain that the novel actually emerged earlier in southern Vietnam—in what was then the French colony of Cochinchina. They describe the works of Vietnam’s first novelists—Tran Chanh Chieu, Truong Duy Toan, and Ho Bieu Chanh—giving special attention to Ho Bieu Chanh’s novel Ai lam duoc (Who Can Do It?) first published in 1912. According to the authors, the first novels by these southern writers are not as modern as Hoang Ngoc Phach’s To Tam—they emphasize traditional Confucian virtues, for example, while To Tam questions them—but they are novels—long narratives in prose. It is therefore these southern writers, the authors conclude, who should be recognized as Vietnam’s first novelists. It is these writers who transformed earlier narrative traditions, particularly the Vietnamese verse narrative (itself an adaptation of Chinese scholar-beauty and knight-errant fiction) and established the novel in Vietnam.

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