Marguerite pushed her hair back and shaded her eyes from the sun, sighing with profound relief to see Sa Dec receding behind her. Still, a coil of worry unfurled in her belly. It was clear that she was going to have to fend for herself, and soon. Her older brother, selfish, egotistical and thieving, certainly promised to be no help. Her younger brother was timid and shy. She chewed her lower lip, and scowled at the enormity of the task confronting her.
A handsome young Chinese man joined her at the railing, jolting her out of her unhappy reverie. He struck up a conversation and she introduced herself. When pressed, she gave her age as seventeen. When the ferry docked on the other side, he offered her a ride into Saigon in his chauffeur-driven limousine. She accepted. She knew who he was, of course. He and his family were well known in Sa Dec where they had a weekend home. At twenty seven, Huynh Thuy Le was already a rich merchant and the heir to a much larger fortune.
Captivated by Marguerite’s brains, beauty and vivacity, Huynh pursued her and she soon became his lover. Before long, their affair was discovered. Naturally, his family were appalled – for many reasons – the cultural differences, the class differences. Huynh's father also never failed to remind Huynh that he was already engaged to be married to a Chinese girl from an equally wealthy family that he would met on his wedding day. The father wasn't about to have that liason thrown away on a chit of a French girl who, when it came right down to it, they accused of simply being after his money.
Her own family, while they enjoyed the money that suddenly showered down, were equally against the liaison and Marguerite suffered beatings from both her mother and her older brother during this time.
The lovers doggedly persevered, convincing themselves that their passion and desire could weather the storms ... that there was a future for them.
But, by the time Marguerite reached the actual age of seventeen, Huynh cracked under family pressure, broke off the affair and married according to his father’s wishes. That year, Marguerite went to France where she began studying for a degree in mathematics. She later married, unhappily, twice and struggled for the rest of her life with alcoholism.
Huynh Thuy Le and his wife had five children and the family emigrated to the United States after the Chinese Cultural Revolution. As adults, several of the children tried to see Marguerite in France but she refused to see them.
Photos: R. Marion
Coming up next: Cooking up a Storm in Saigon
Late in life, she released the semi-autobiographical novel L'Amant (The Lover) (1984) which detailed the affair. A film version was made in 1992, but by that time Huynh had already died. The filming had to be done in a studio since at the time the actual house was being used as a police station. It is now a museum.
Marguerite Duras died in 1996, at the age of 81, of throat cancer.