Teaching Gone with the Wind in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam

Article excerpt

On his tour through modern Georgia in search of memories of the Old South, Tony Horwitz marveled at Japanese tourists' fascination with Gone with the Wind and observed the exchanges between them and a busy Vivien Leigh--Scarlett O'Hara impersonator, Melly Meadows. Meadows had taken her act to Tokyo and boasted that she had once shown her red pantalets to a delighted Japanese Empress. She had learned some Japanese to banter with the tourists who contracted for her appearances in Atlanta, and from these exchanges, she speculated that the Japanese had a "special affinity" for Gone with the Wind (GWTW) because of a kindred attraction to traditional notions of femininity and because they, like southerners, had rebuilt their country after a devastating war. Horwitz mentions other sources of attraction: Scarlett's loyalty to family, her strength, and the "subtle, mannered code" that both Japanese and southern culture seem to share. (1)

It is no news to GWTW watchers that Margaret Mitchell's 1936 book and subsequent film have been embraced by fans around the world. By the late 1930s Gone with the Wind was enormously popular in the United States; it had won a Pulitzer and almost a million and a half volumes were published in the first edition. Today, GWTW is a global phenomenon that has sold over thirty million copies and has been issued in nearly two hundred editions in forty countries. The film, released in 1939, became one of the most popular escapist events of the hard 1930s in the United States, winning eight Academy Awards before it was also sold to audiences around the world. Both book and movie--the GWTW phenomenon has usually circulated in a hybrid of both versions--continued to be widely appreciated everywhere in the next half century. The book was enjoyed even surreptitiously in Nazi Germany after 1942 and in the Soviet Union after World War II, where it and other American books were banned. Gone with the Wind was praised as an example of "people's literature" by authorities in China during the trial of the Gang of Four. It was so popular in Russia during perestroika that it went through at least ten editions in the 1980s; two million copies were published of an edition issued by the publishing house Pravda in 1991. One of the Russian fans of the novel, Alexandra Alekseevna Krupoder, was so moved by the plight of the characters that she wrote a thousand-page sequel that brought to a happy conclusion the sentimental yet unhappy dosing of the original. Elsewhere, the story also landed on fertile cultural soil, and foreign-language editions were published in places that had relatively small markets for the book. One collector of "Windiana" that Tony Horwitz encountered in Georgia possessed copies of the book from Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Ethiopia, and even one from Latvia, published in 1938, just before Latvia disappeared as an independent country for a half century. (2)

And there was also one from Vietnam. The book was available in the south of Vietnam in the 1960s and widely read there in the 1980s; the film version was available in the 1960S and again in the 1990s. Alexandra Ripley's massive Wind-inspired novel, Scarlett: The Sequel to Margaret Mitchell's "Gone with the Wind," arrived in Vietnam at a propitious time in 1991, when it could feed on the rediscovery of GWTW, as well as benefit from the 1986 market reforms of the Sixth Party Congress and a liberalized book publishing industry that began, at least in Hanoi, churning out translations of American bestsellers. Though the Vietnamese version of Scarlett was a bumpy one--a Vietnamese translation of a French translation of the English original--it was an instant hit, along with several other novels new to Vietnam by the likes of Harold Robbins, Danielle Steel, and Stephen King. A new Vietnamese edition of GWTW also appeared in the 1990s and was again widely read. The sequel has since largely disappeared from the shelves of bookstores, while the original experienced renewed interest in the late 1990s among another generation of younger readers. …