Nguyen Du’s Kim Vân Kieu, written in the early nineteenth century and commonly considered to be a defining masterpiece of Vietnamese literature, is the story of an educated and beautiful young woman who suffers misfortune and degradation before obtaining justice and peace. It is a long poem in a complex metric and rhyme scheme that is distinctively Vietnamese. In The Kim Vân Kieu of Nguyen Du (1765–1820), Vladislav Zhukov provides the first English translation that perfectly conveys the poetic form of the original work, thereby producing a literary creation in English that is equivalent to Nguyen Du’s genius in Vietnamese and which can be appreciated as poetry in English. An introduction by Cornell’s K. W. Taylor places the poem in its cultural and literary context, provides a brief biography of Nguyen Du, and illustrates using examples the complex, witty, and poetic nature of this epic narrative.
Nguyen Du was born in Hanoi into a family whose males had been prominent in Vietnamese scholarship and government for at least three centuries. At the age of seventeen he passed the regional civil service examination and was adopted by a high-ranking but childless military officer in Thai Nguyen province, and soon after Nguyen Du inherited the man’s position and property. Nguyen Du encountered the Jin Yun Qiao Zhuan while on a diplomatic mission to China in 1813, and thereafter wrote Kim Vân Kieu.
Vladislav Zhukov graduated from St. Joseph’s College (Hunters Hill, New South Wales, Australia) in 1958, served with the Australian infantry in Vietnam as a translator, and subsequently studied at The Australian National University (ANU). Zhukov has translated much literature in various languages, including most recently Umar Kayam’s Javanese Gentry. Vladislav Zhukov’s interest in Vietnam was first aroused during his military service there as a rifleman and interpreter with the Australian army. Following his discharge, he extended the basic grounding he had received in Vietnamese at the Royal Australian Air Force School of Languages (Point Cook, Victoria) by pursuing studies at ANU. He was among the first to take advantage of the opening up of Vietnam in the early 1990s, living there for two and a half years.
Introduction by …
K. W. Taylor is Professor of Vietnamese Cultural Studies in the Department of Asian Studies at Cornell University. He is author of The Birth of Vietnam, A History of the Vietnamese, and many articles about Vietnamese history and literature; he is co-editor of Essays into Vietnamese Pasts; Views of Seventeenth-Century Vietnam: Christoforo Borri on Cochinchina and Samuel Baron on Tonkin; and Monde du Viet Nam—Vietnam World.