THE MEKONG DELTA || SA DEC
A cluster of brick and tile kilns on the riverbank announces your arrival in the charming town of SA DEC, a little over 20km upriver of Vinh Long. French novelist Marguerite Duras lived here as a child, and decades later the town’s stuccoed shophouse terraces, riverside mansions and remarkably busy stretch of the rumbling Mekong provided the backdrop for the movie adaptation of her novel The Lover.
It’s worth wandering along Nguyen Hué, whose umbrella-choked lanes hide Sa Dec’s extensive riverside market as well as the former home of Dumas’ lover. Waterfront comings and goings are observed by rheumy old men playing chequers, and women squat on their haunches, selling fruit from wicker baskets.
Marguerite Duras (1914–96) was born to French parents in a suburb of Saigon, and lived in various locations in Vietnam and Cambodia before going, aged 18, to study at the Sorbonne in France. She wrote many novels, plays and film scripts including the autobiographical novel The Lover (1984), which sold over three million copies and was translated into forty languages. Its subject is an interracial affair between a 15-year-old French girl and her middle-aged Chinese lover, set in 1930s’ Indochina. Duras had little sympathy for her peers, of whom she wrote “I look at the (French) women in the streets of Saigon. They don’t do anything, just save themselves up… Some of them go mad… some are deserted for a young maid.” Duras clearly had no intention of letting life pass her by in this way, even if it meant becoming the subject of the town’s gossip.
Though her novels are principally about the inner thoughts of her characters, she also describes the landscape around Sa Dec as it still appears today: “In the surrounding flatness, stretching as far as the eye can see, the rivers flow as if the earth slopes downward.”
If you visit Sa Dec with a tour guide, they will almost inevitably take you to look at her former house beside the river – an old colonial villa that now belongs to the People’s Committee.