The Tale of Kieu is Nguyen Du’s masterpiece of Vietnamese poetry. Written at the beginning of the 19th century by a stressed-out mandarin whose beloved emperor had just been toppled, it tells the story of Kieu, a young woman who falls for the hunk next door. The hunk takes a long trip and, in his absence, Kieu’s father and brother end up in jail. The beautiful and talented Kieu must forsake her love (consummated just in time) in order to help her family, which in those days meant long stints as a prostitute, singer, and servant.
There are violent battles, intervening loves, and plenty of sex. In the end, though, patience and loyalty pay off. After a 15-year absence, Kieu and the hunk reunite in a gorgeous, bittersweet wedding:In their own room they traded toasts still shyof their new bond, yet moved by their old love.Since he, a lotus sprout, first met with her,a fresh peach bud, fifteen full years had fled.To fall in love, to part, to reunite --both felt mixed grief and joy as rose the moon.Suddenly boss-less and under pressure to show some love to the new regime, Nguyen Du used Kieu to make the broader political point that even during times of upheaval, the principles of fidelity and chastity must be defended at all costs.