by An Vu
Nguyen Ngoc Truc, a freelancer, can be seen sitting in front of her home television screen, rapt in attention as she watches Ben Nhau Tron Doi (Being Together the Whole Life), which is currently on air.
Ben Nhau Tron Doi, a show adapted from a popular Chinese romantic novel with the same name, has recently gained widespread popularity among domestic viewers, especially females.
Truc is among a group of Vietnamese readers, who mostly devote their reading time to this genre.
"You can call me a true admirer of this genre. I have read more than 30 novels in this genre, and I never get sick of it. I bet many other ladies will be sitting like me at this time, watching the drama, as it is one of nine novels in the genre that have been adapted as a TV drama," Truc said.
The novel tells the story of a romantic and long-lasting relationship between an extremely attractive boy and a plain looking girl, whom he befriends in high school. Eight years later, when the girl returns after studying abroad, the boy has become a successful and wealthy lawyer. Yet, his love for her has remained the same.
"Although it has just been on air for two months, the drama has stormed the imagination of many families in Viet Nam, especially housewives and teenaged girls. I think it has become so popular among the female audience because it has been successful in building the perfect image of a gentleman: handsome, smart, and rich and most importantly, faithful, and someone, who does not care about the ordinary appearance of the girl he loves," Truc added.
However, some individuals are concerned about the foreign drama becoming a negative influence on the youth in Viet Nam.
In fact, the Chinese novel has remained popular in the Vietnamese book market for three years and has strengthened its position in the country. In big cities, such as Ha Noi, HCM City, Hai Phong, more and more young people are avidly taking about this emerging genre.
At Ha Noi's Nguyen Xi book street, a group of high school students is seen standing in the Chinese romantic novel sections that have some eye-catching and colourful books on display.
Among them, Nguyen Quynh Trang, 18, says she is reading Yeu em tu cai nhin dau tien (Loving You from the First Look), written by best-selling author Gouman.
"We have such books in the library of our school as well, but they are not similar to the ones available in the bookshop. I've asked my mother to allow me to buy some novels, but she refused since she thought they were not suitable for me," said Trang.
Nguyen Minh Huong, one of the staff members at the bookshop, said the number of customers looking for such Chinese romantic fiction has been growing.
"Many more are coming to buy these novels, mostly females, aged between 16 and 25 years. At this time of the year, classic books seem unmarketable, while these books are amazingly drawing a hoard of buyers."
In addition to the regular book shops, antique bookstores are also selling them," she pointed out.
Huong added that even though the prices of these Chinese novels are much higher than Vietnamese stories and novels, they have remained on the best-selling list for many weeks.
Tran Manh Hung, director of the Thaihabooks company, said every book has it owns reader.
"Romantic novels conquer the domestic market for a very simple reason: they write what young people feel, they understand what they are curious about, what they want to learn, who their idols are, which fantasies they have? I personally do not support such books. We cannot exactly terms them as 'porn', but they do create the wrong kind of sexual awareness."
He continued, "Many of my students are influenced by them and commit to irresponsible relationships. Some fancy these perfect characters in the book so much that they fantasize about them all the time, while others are disappointed when they are unable to meet a boy similar to the one in the book and end up feeling depressed and anti-social. However, this is how the publishers of such novels are able to run a successful business: where there is demand, they supply."
Truong Thu Nga, 41, a housewife, shared Hung's views.
"The first time around, I was just curious and read the novels for fun, but now I cannot keep myself from reading them over and over. I became so engrossed in their fantasy world that I neglected taking care of my children, even stayed up all night to finish the novel. My husband and I had a quarrel many times, and our children have been unable to concentrate on their studies," Nga said.
Dao Phuong Ly, 22, who is a student at the Ha Noi Academy of Theatre and Cinema, proudly showed off her bookcase, which is full of romantic novels.
She insisted, "I can skip my lessons and my meal, but I cannot skip reading these books. My boyfriend has even asked me to choose between him and the books."
Although many people oppose the popularity of those books, 26-year-old Truc does not feel the same.
"Everything has two sides. Why don't you ask those who read these novels, and see what they take away from them? It does not matter what kind of stories they read, it is how they learn from them. You should blame the educationists, who have failed to orient their students to useful thinkings, but instead blame the romantic fictions for their bad behaviour. Each one has their own personal taste, and it is their (the youth) right to choose what they want to read," said the freelancer.
Do Thuy Duong, director of the Vietnamese Book Commerce Limited Company, echoed Truc's sentiments.
"Our company has a wide range of romantic novels. However, I think it is important to understand how readers accept this kind of fiction. With the development of the Internet and rampant uncontrolled communication, young people get lost in such books and have no means of figuring out how to choose the suitable book."
"When you see a movie like Pretty Woman and like it, you will try and also find a book where a prostitute gets married to a rich, handsome tycoon. Compared with the Chinese romantic novels, the US movie also has unrealistic scenes. Don't judge a book by its cover, and put a bad label on the entire genre. What we need to do is to educate young people and make better books available to them for reading," Duong added.
I think in the current day and age, it is very important to understand what a book teaches us about life, and the lessons we learn from it. If a book does not teach any important life lessons, try not to waste your time and money on it. — VNS