L’Amant de la Chine du Nord

ISBN: 2070388093
ISBN 13: 9782070388097
By: Marguerite Duras

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About this book

«J'ai appris qu'il était mort depuis des années. C'était en mai 1990 [...]. Je n'avais jamais pensé à sa mort. On m'a dit aussi qu'il était enterré à Sadec, que la maison bleue était toujours là, habitée par sa famille et des enfants. Qu'il avait été aimé à Sadec pour sa bonté, sa simplicité et qu'aussi il était devenu très religieux à la fin de sa vie.J'avais abandonné le travail que j'étais en train de faire. J'ai écrit l'histoire de l'amant de la Chine du Nord et de l'enfant : elle n'était pas encore là dans L'Amant, le temps manquait autour d'eux. J'ai écrit ce livre dans le bonheur fou de l'écrire. Je suis restée un an dans ce roman, enfermée dans cette année-là de l'amour entre le Chinois et l'enfant.Je ne suis pas allée au-delà du départ du paquebot de ligne, c'est-à-dire le départ de l'enfant.» - Marguerite Duras.

Reader's Thoughts


Duras repeatedly told the story of her first lover throughout her life. The writing was fantastic (I've had a good run of this lately). The story was disturbing and told in a dream-like haze. She was 14 when she met him and there were blurred lines around whether she was engaged in sex work, or a love affair (and whether either one would have been possible without some blurred lines.) It was a good book to read for book group because there were so many opinions.


No me gustó nada. Ya "El amante" me pareció aburrido, pero éste me pareció definitivamente evitable. La anécdota estaba agotada y sentí que Duras quiso aprovechar el éxito de "El amante" para seguir escribiendo sobre algo que no daba para más. Las referencias cinematográficas no tienen nada que hacer acá. O quizás simplemente hay que aceptar que no me gusta Duras como escritora. Quizás.


Was far more thoughtful then the LOVER and gave the detail that the first book and movie missed. Especially about the father of the Chinese man.


Certainly more revealing than 'The Lover', this book made me tremble with sadness over the story of the two lovers. Their love, desire and ultimate despair were pictured so... real.I loved especially when he talked to her in Chinese, and the moment she understood how lonely he was, as if surrounded by his country. His fragile body, his beautiful hands, the way he was unsure of himself - I almost fell in love with him myself.The Child too, her ability to love, and the way she was able to live further - I admire her because of that.I wonder if this was the most honest book I read in my life.


The North China Lover reads a little bit more like a screen-play, with Duras' stage direction in the footnotes. I tried to read it as a separate work from The Lover and separate from the film, but they're all tangled together, like different fragments, which is perhaps how Duras had to put it together for herself. I think of The Lover as the prelude in poem form and The North China Lover as the novel, fleshed out and rich.

Ibrahem Sopuh

المذكرات وسيرة الموت اقطاب تثقل قلبي بالألم ..

Dale Pobega

I must admit I struggled to get to the end. Had already read "The Lover" and although this is not the same book, I found it less appealing. Not quite sure what point Duras was trying to make about the relationship and young girl's sexuality. I don't agree with some of the more prudish reviews here about this essentially being a tale of pedophilia. Nicely written in parts - lyrical passages describing the Indochinese countryside just as I remembered in "The Lover". Written with such ease and simplicity. I liked it but felt it didn't satisfy me in the same way as the other book.


This beautiful, sad book is also an exquisite movie that I have seen several times and will see again. The version of the book that I have read must be later than the original as it is footnoted throughout with ideas for a film of the story.... so, I don't know quite where the two knit together but they are both..... extra-ordinary - (not EXTRAORDINARY with lots of !!!!!! afterwards, but a quiet 'extra' in front of 'ordinary' - not because it does not deserve accolades but because, in our society, we tend to scream such accolades and this book/film should never be expressed with words that scream.)The movie is absolutely exquisite in its delicious sensuality and in its depiction of SouthEast Asia with all its own stunningly sensuous beauty.The book is beautiful too, more in-depth with its story behind the erotica.... the fractured family of the Child: her opium-addicted and dangerous older brother; her bright but fearful younger brother; her ineffectual mother who is overwhelmed by many things, among them her fear of her older son and her star-crossed love for him - her first child;... And then there is the adopted son from 'the forests of Siam', who protects the mother and the little brother and loves 'the Child'; and the Child, whose own budding sexuality is played out all over the place - as is so often true of us when we are young, but is so taboo that it is never, ever talked about, never, ever expressed as Duras expresses it - And then, of course, there is "the Chinese". All these lives entwine and draw apart and entwine again, like a slow, mesmerizing dance from beginning to end.This book draws the reader in in a way that is hard to encapsulate.. as clearly I have not been able to do.. .... It is entrancing, poignant, tender and hard. Completely captivating and richly alluring....


I wasn’t expecting much. I heard that it was basically a retelling of the Lover and wasn’t nearly as good. Given all of the negative reviews, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. It has quickly become a favorite. I read the Lover about a year ago and saw the film adaptation shortly after. I didn’t think that she could add much to the already rich story, but she really did.The North China Lover is a simple story. It is semi-autobiographical and tells of an affair Duras had as a child with an older Chinese man while living in what is now Vietnam. I found this telling to be much more raw and honest than the Lover, but at the same time was more tender in many places. I love Duras’ writing style. It is the type of writing that is so simple and bare, but sticks with you and resonates.I would definitely recommend this book (but obviously for older audiences).


Inspired by Richard's commitment to multi-lingual reading and blogging, I've decided to try to work on my languages as well, and read more novels in the original French. How many is "more"? Well, last year I read a grand total of one. So, in order to top that, this year I'll need to read...two. Maybe the year after that I'll read three. As you can tell, I'm practically signing up for À la recherche du temps perdu already. Considering that last year's pick, J.M.G. Le Clézio's Ourania , was something of a struggle for me and took several months to complete, I'm startled to find that I've already finished my first French book of 2010: Marguerite Duras's L'amant de la chine du nord (available in English translation as The North China Lover). Duras's book is actually a re-working of her earlier novel L'amant; it re-envisions the story as a film, and retells it from a more complete, possibly mature angle. Both L'amant and L'amant de la chine du nord are fictionalized memoirs dealing with Duras's sexual coming-of-age as a young - very young - Frenchwoman in 1920s Vietnam (then French Indochina). Well, let me be blunter: it tells the story of her first consummated affair, with a wealthy 28-year-old Chinese man, when she was fourteen.Given that plot there's obviously a lot to talk about here vis-a-vis sexual and gender dynamics, but let's get some formalist stuff out of the way first: Duras's prose is vivid and lush, and the fact that she wrote this novel as if giving screen directions (including camera pans, fade-ins and fade-outs, etc.), makes the reading experience overwhelmingly visual. This kind of narration is often a turn-off for me; I tend to find it choppy or overly mannered. But in Duras's case I think it works perfectly for two reasons. In the first place, this is one of those books in which the setting is almost as much of a character as the characters themselves. The hot monsoon nights, the flooded rice fields, the night sounds of the young Vietnamese night guards singing outside the gates of the main character's colonial boarding school - presenting all this to the audience front-and-center brings it to the foreground, and persuades the reader to concentrate on it, to see it. And secondly, in a film all the viewer knows about a character's motivations is how she sees them acting - she has no direct access to their interior monologue. A cinematic approach, then, plays perfectly into one of Duras's main themes in this novel: the ambiguity of human actions.Because L'amant de la chine du nord does not leave the reader with any clear answers about why the characters act as they do, or how we ought to feel about it. Compared to, say, Lolita, which argues pretty plainly for Humbert as a delusional, dirty old man and Delores Haze as his victim, Duras's moral universe is extremely murky. The main character, known only as "l'enfant" ("the child"), comes from a desperately poor family of French settlers in Indochina; we later learn that she has already had several offers of marriage/concubinage from men in their thirties, which her mother has pressed her to accept in order to alleviate the family's poverty, but which she has refused. In her boarding school, certain teachers and even students choose to prostitute themselves in the streets. In this light, her meeting with and choice to pursue her wealthy lover (known in the novel as le Chinois or The Chinaman) seems a clear economic decision, the best she can do in a bad situation. But things are not so simple. There's no question that l'enfant lusts after le Chinois - that her psyche is, in fact, super-saturated with lust. She has incestuous thoughts about her younger brother, with whom she is extremely close. She is already involved in a semi-sexual relationship with one of her female school friends, and the two of them fantasize about taking the place of their prostitute teacher - the idea of forbidden sex being thrilling to them. From practically the moment she meets le Chinois, she is fascinated by his physicality - she is the aggressor in their relationship, and it seems as though she is acting from real feeling, not just aping the actions of adults in order to produce a desired effect. At the same time, it's not completely positive for her, or comfortable to read; her experiences of actually having sex, especially at first, involve a lot more pain and suffering than pleasure, and she seems perplexed by the strength of Le Chinois's emotions when he falls in love with her. He is weeping about how his magnate father will disinherit him if he marries her, and she is teasing him and wanting him to tell her more about life in China. Duras does a creepily effectual job at blending L'enfant's precocious sensuality and sexuality with certain other, very kid-like, qualities in her. She kind of just wants to experiment and learn about the world, and also to have sex. Would she want to have sex if it weren't for her family's poverty, and the possibility of getting her hands on some of Le Chinois's money? Would she want to have sex if she hadn't been prematurely sexualized by the men who want to buy her from her mother, and by her feelings for her brother, and by the boarding school atmosphere? One can't help asking these questions, but at the same time they're a bit pointless: if those things had been different, she would have been a completely different person. And here's another thing that's unusual in this type of story: L'enfant and Le Chinois enjoy each others' company. You never get the sense that Lolita and Humbert ever have fun together, but L'enfant and Le Chinois go out late at night to restaurants in the Chinese section of town, tell each other stories, laugh at each others' frankness. To be fair, there is also a lot of crying in the book, and overall it's somewhat melancholic, but unlike Kristin Lavransdatter it also has its fair share of mutual enjoyment of the present moment. And although the affair (inevitably) ends, and everyone feels sad about that for a while, L'enfant doesn't really suffer as a punishment for having sex, in the way that Lolita, Tess Durbyfield, and other literary sexual victims do (dying in childbirth, no less! Talk about sexual punishment). Duras's protagonist goes through a mixed emotional experience and then gets on with her life, but one never gets the sense that she is suffering, or enjoying herself, as a vehicle for the author to make a point about who is right and who is wrong. Duras's book is the most non-judgmental treatment - in either a positive or negative way - of sex between a very young person and an older person, I've ever come across. I wouldn't call it primarily a love story, but neither would I say it's primarily a tale of oppression. (And speaking of oppression: the racial dynamics among the transplanted white French, colonized Vietnamese, and wealthy landowning Chinese are another whole fascinating subject.)The whole tale brings up interesting questions about the triangulation of love, lust, liking, and money. If L'enfant is more or less engaging in sex work, does that mean she doesn't love Le Chinois? Does it mean she doesn't like him? If her first feeling upon seeing him is one of lust, does that invalidate the money motive? To what extent are the desires for money and sex interwoven? And what should we, as readers, be hoping for as we read this story? Duras allows all of these elements to coexist in uneasy harmony, which in itself is an admirable feat.


I was entranced with The Lover when I read it in college, and curious as to how this novel-as-screenplay would feel to me almost a decade later. Duras is a sensuous, spare and intimate writer whose prose hints at meaning that only she knows fully. I found myself reading and re-reading The North China Lover to discover the truth - did she have an affair with her brother? Was she in love with her North China lover? or was she prostituted? Details that had been forgotten were revealed, and the melancholy tone lingered well after the final pages.


** spoiler alert ** I was first acquainted with Duras' work after watching Hiroshima mon amour, the film by Alain Resnais for which she had written the screenplay. I was sixteen at the time, and our History teacher, who was from France, made us watch it. I was absolutely enthralled by the language of the film, the language of Duras. Three years later, as I was passing by our college's book store, I noticed L'amant de la Chine du Nord was being sold for a French class, and bought it (although it wasn't being taught in my own French class). It is the first book I read this year, having finished it on January 2nd. As I understand it, Duras rewrote her earlier work L'amant as she was disappointed with how its film (directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud) turned out, and it is the reason why the updated L'amant has many footnotes and passages regarding filmography: "en cas de cinéma..." or "dans le cas d'un film..." she writes. She gives directives in the story on how to film a certain scene, from which angle. Her footnotes also contain elements about the caracters from the novel and what became of them, like Hélène Lagonelle. Duras' style is wonderful and fresh, and if read aloud is even better (obviously well-punctuated, with the right emphasis on the right words). Very rich in imagery, very to-the-point and poignant, it's what made me want to read the book in the first place and what pushed me to finish it. Honestly, I wasn't very interested in the story. Some parts of it still remain very obscure to me. The lovemaking scenes I found very endearing and well-written, but after so many of them they became a drag. I was also surprised at the apparent incest between the child and her brother Paulo, and how hypersexual the said child was for her age. I didn't feel a connection to any of the caracters, maybe perhaps a bit of pity for the mother, who was so foolish with her eldest son and so blinded by her love for him. Perhaps if I read the original L'amant, I'll feel more enthralled by the story of a fifteen year-old child and her much older Chinese lover.


Careful reading is key to enjoying this book. It's one of my top-ten all-time favorite books. My copy is well-worn and filled with highlights and side notes.I first read this book in grad school (I attended much later in life) - a world lit class I took on a whim. I think we read 10 books in 12 weeks - all if them amazing - and this one stuck in my brain...I found out they made a movie based on the book - oh man - so good. Cinematography is outstanding - bringing the book and characters to life.I think I'll re-read this one ---- again.


This book was the biggest disappointment of my life. I still can't believe how much I disliked it. The Lover is one of my favorite novels ever, and I was excited to read a more in-depth re-telling of the story; but, all I got was -- I don't even know what. I adore Duras and her prose, and am generally tolerant of self-indulgence in artists, but something about this book made me feel like I was being rambled to by a pathetic middle-aged lady who was trying to convince me of how transcendent her life was by describing the same sentimentalized moments over and over and over. I don't know. Maybe there's something wrong with me. Of course there were some beautiful passages, but overall I hated this book.


Long, overdone, and repetitive. The prose was so sparse that the book ended up feeling disjointed and slightly pretentious. I liked that I was given more insight into her relationship than "The Lover" provided, but that's the only positive aspect of this novel. By the end, I was so sick of reading "We cried. We laughed. He laughed. I cried" that I too almost cried. Out of frustration. Wouldn't recommend this book.

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