In her short and powerful novel, which won the Prix Goncourt in France in 1984, Duras recounts the largely autobiographical story of her family’s struggles in Southeast Asia. The major characters of the book are the narrator, whose obsessive remembrances of her days as a high school student in Saigon center the novel; the Chinese lover, whose father prevents him from marrying the narrator; the narrator’s mother, whose favoritism for her older son and alternating encouragement and abuse of the narrator undermine the family; the older brother, who terrorizes his younger brother and sister while never finishing the school courses his mother arranges for him; and the younger brother, whose death spurs the narrator to attempt suicide.
Central themes of the book include memory and separation. Memory provides the frame for the novel, which is the recollection of a middle-aged Frenchwoman. One image that combines these themes is the photograph. The narrator describes how the mother has the family go to the photographer, always having pictures of the family group but not taking pictures of “Vinh Long . . . of the garden, the river, the straight tamarind-lined avenues of the French conquest, not of the house, nor of our institutional white-washed bedrooms with the big black-and-gilt iron beds, lit up like classrooms by the red streetlights, the green metal lampshades.”
The narrator separates herself from her mother by describing what the mother...
(The entire section is 572 words.)