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Last Reviewed on June 5, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 474

Published in 1984, L'Amant (The Lover) is a novel based on the real-life story of its author, French writer Marguerite Duras. Though the protagonist, a 15-year-old girl, a remains unnamed, it's considered to be Duras herself: this short book is a kind of memoir based on her early years living in Saigon. The story is told from the perspective of the girl, many years later, when she's looking back on her youth.

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The story is set in French Indochina in the 1930s. The girl is on a ferry, traveling across the Mekong Delta. After a holiday with her family (a respectable family, but a family that's going through tough times, financially speaking—the girl's father is dead, and her mother is depressed), she's on her way back to Saigon, where she attends boarding school.

On the boat, she's approached by an elegant Chinese man who's young (but not that young; he's 12 years older than the girl). He offers her a cigarette and starts talking with her. He's wealthy, by all indications: at the end of the ferry ride, he's met by his chauffeur, and he offers the girl a ride in his limousine. The young man is revealed to be the heir to a great fortune.

The girl, thinking of her family's hardship, realizes that she stands to benefit from the fact that the Chinese man is attracted to her. She's afraid for her own future, and she accepts his advances. They become lovers, and the girl experiences a sexual awakening. But both the girl and the man are afraid of their relationship being found out; it would be scandalous, as she's underage, and there's a major social and racial gap between them. Still, the girl stays with the relationship, and the Chinese man helps to support her family. Her family guesses at the nature of the relationship, but they still accept his financial support, partly because they're desperate for it.

More people find out about the relationship, and as expected, the public reaction (particularly among the colonial French community) is not positive. The Chinese man's father demands that his son end the affair, or face being cut off from the wealth he's due to inherit.

The relationship between the lovers breaks off after about a year and a half, when the girl's family returns to France. The girl is 17. Back in France, she becomes a writer, marries, and has children.

Later, after the death of her younger brother—one of the brothers whom she lived with, along with her mother, back in Saigon—the girl (now a woman) looks back on her youth and remembers her Chinese lover. She receives a phone call from him, and he tells her he still loves her. The book ends with her own contemplation of the past, and her reevaluation of her own feelings for her former lover.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 643

The main plot of The Lover is the story of a fifteen-and-a-half-year-old French schoolgirl’s love affair with the son of a rich Chinese businessman in Saigon during the 1930’s. The novel is narrated by the girl herself, now an old woman and a successful writer. At the time of their first meeting, the girl’s father has been dead for about ten years. Her two brothers, seventeen and eighteen years old, live with their impoverished mother, who is the headmistress of the girls’ school in Sadec. In the novel’s first fully developed scene, in which the slightest details are described minutely, the girl is returning to Saigon—where she attends the French high school and stays at a state boarding school—after spending a school vacation with her family in Sadec. She is standing near the native bus she has been riding as it is being ferried across a branch of the Mekong River, as is the chauffeur-driven limousine of the young Chinese man, who is twelve years older than the girl and has just returned from spending two years...

(The entire section contains 1117 words.)

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