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The curious memoirs of the Vietnamese composer Phạm Duy


This article reviews the memoirs of Phạm Duy, a famous Vietnamese composer, who in the late 1930s and 1940s composed some of the first modern Vietnamese songs. His memoirs describe his time with the anti-French Resistance, his break with it in 1950, and his years in Saigon and the United States. My review focuses on curious aspects of these memoirs: Phạm Duy's careful listing of his many love affairs; his insistence that he needed lovers to compose songs; and his failure to acknowledge that he profited from a culture that glorifies the self-sacrifice of women. After considering whether Phạm Duy's behaviour as depicted in his memoirs conforms to cultural norms for Vietnamese male artists, I argue that it is best seen as, in Judith Butler's expression, a ‘hyperbolic exhibition’ of the natural. I conclude by speculating about how Phạm Duy and his memoirs may be viewed in future years.

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Cao Thị Như-Quỳnh and John C. Schafer , ‘From verse narrative to novel: The development of prose fiction in Vietnam’, Journal of Asian Studies, 47, 4 (1988): 756–77

John C. Schafer , ‘Lê Vân and notions of Vietnamese womanhood’, Journal of Vietnamese Studies, 5, 3 (2010): 129–91

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Journal of Southeast Asian Studies
  • ISSN: 0022-4634
  • EISSN: 1474-0680
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-southeast-asian-studies
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