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Dumb Luck, by the brilliant, controversial, and influential Vietnamese writer Vu Trong Phung, is a bitter satire of the rage for modernization in Vietnam during the late-colonial era. First published in Hanoi in 1936, it follows the absurd and unexpected rise within colonial society of a street-smart vagabond named Red-haired Xuân. As it charts Xuân's fantastic social ascent, the novel provides a panoramic view of late-colonial urban social order-from the filthy sidewalks of Hanoi's old commercial quarter to the gaudy mansions of the emergent Francophile northern upper classes. A major theme of the work is the transformation of traditional Vietnamese class and gender relations triggered by the growth of colonial capitalism.
This novel, banned in most of Vietnam until 1986, is the first translation of a major work by Vu Trong Phung. The novel's clever plot, richly drawn characters, humorous tone, and preoccupation with sex, fashion, and capitalism will attract a wide audience.
Vu Trong Phung is arguably the greatest Vietnamese writer of the twentieth century. Compared to Balzac by some, he was a prolific and controversial satirist unafraid to challenge the prevailing mores of his age. Although he died before his twenty-seventh birthday, Vu Trong Phung amassed a body of work that includes eight novels, seven plays, and five book-length works of nonfiction. Dumb Luck is generally acknowledged as his defining masterpiece.
Peter Zinoman is Associate Professor of Southeast Asian History at the University of California, Berkeley. A writer, editor, and translator in addition to being a scholar, his research interests include the cultural, social, and political history of Vietnam, as well as the history of twentieth-century Vietnamese literature. He is also the author of The Colonial Bastille: A History of Imprisonment in Vietnam, 1862-1940.
Nguyen Nguyet Cam is Vietnamese Language Instructor at the University of California, Berkeley. A gifted linguist, she has published numerous translations of works from English into Vietnamese, including two of E. B. White's classic children's novels, Charlotte's Web and The Trumpet of the Swan. She has also translated several pieces of Vietnamese fiction into English.
Copyright © 2002, University of Michigan. All rights reserved. Posted September 2002.
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