TODAY IN LITERATURE – “The Day Always Belongs to the Sun,’ by Tran Thanh Ha

On of the things that strikes me over and over on our Classical Pursuits trips is the confirmation that however we may appear to differ across the ages, oceans and culture, in all essential ways, we are one human family. Maybe Shylock said it as well as any, “If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die?”

Just as India felt in so many ways like a  world apart, I expect there will be much that feels exotic about Viet Nam when we travel there this fall. But, like India, literature is one sure way to remind us of all that binds us. During our travels from Hanoi to Saigon and cruising slowing up the Mekong River to the ruins of Angkor Wat in Cambodia will will read and discuss a variety of Viet Nam voices, including a 19th century single woman whose poems show her to be independent-minded, sexually frank, resistant to societal norms, and very funny and a variety of contemporary short stories. You can read about the trip here.

Here is a story that will, no doubt, evoke in all readers memories of similar youthful dilemmas .

“The Day Always Belongs to the Sun”

“The Day Always Belongs to the Sun”
By Tran Thanh Ha

At last I managed to get a job teaching at a secondary school about fifteen kilometres away from home. The distance was nearly the same as between my house and the town. “What? You’ve accepted it, have you?” asked Aunt Thuong.

“What else can I do?,” I answered.

An, my sweetheart, was not surprised when I told him of my decision. “I see. In our lifetime, we always cherish such an illusion,” he said. I was offended, but he only smiled. “I intend that I’ll work for some time, say one or two years. When we’re qualified enough, we’ll get married,” I said. “Ah, a member of the intelligentsia!,” aunt remarked sarcastically. “You are showing your scholar’s pride, are you?” She had reason to be bitter, because I had turned down her offer of help – work for a foreign firm with a good salary.

“Not that. I only want …,” I began.

“Let it be,” she interrupted. “Life will teach you to be self-reliant very early. But what about your darling? What is his opinion?” “For the time being, we’ll have to be away from each other for some time. Whenever both of us find that we’re able to live together, we’ll … ,” I answered.

“How romantic you are!” I brought our conversation to an end because I knew that it would lead to a quarrel. I still felt sad that she’d turned a deaf ear to my explanation.


Aunt Thuong was my mother’s youngest sibling, after Uncle Hung. Mother was pretty and aunt was beautiful. Aunt’s eyes were as black as coal. Her nose was straight and delicate. Her lips were rosy and her complexion was lily-white. But she was congenitally lame. Unfortunately this defect had turned out be a major disadvantage. Mother told me that Aunt was very good at maths. She had come first in a mathematics competition at the district level. Children at her school nicknamed her “Lame.” Her pride in her intelligence was unable to compensate for her defect. She cried her heart out often. Moved, granny told her, “Stay home with me, dear. There’s no need for you to go to school any more.”

But aunt responded: “I’m lame. This is such a disadvantage. If I was illiterate as well, it would be much worse. I’d be looked down upon by everyone.” She did well at school. When she finished her secondary education with distinction she sat for the university-entrance examinations and passed it with high marks. But the college sent her back home just because she was lame. She resigned herself to staying at home for one year, doing needlework for purses and bags for young ladies. When Uncle Hung built a house in the town to get everything ready for his marriage, aunt told him: “Take me along as well. There I’ll look after your children.” He agreed. So she followed her elder brother to town. “She will be unhappy there,” Granny said. “Let her do what she wants to,” Mother insisted.


Living in the town with her brother’s small family and being tired of doing nothing but needlework in a deserted house in the daytime, Aunt took to visiting a grocer’s stall close to the market and stayed there for hours. With her presence, the number of customers coming to the stall increased noticeably. The shop owner asked Aunt to work for her, and she became a salesgirl. Passers-by, especially young men, besotted by her charm, could not help stopping in front of the stall to buy something they really did not need. “It’s high time you got married, dear,” said Granny. “Out of ten men, nine like the upper two-third portion of my body, not the lower one-third,” she replied.

Later, uncle opened a shop in the front portion of his house for her to do business. Customers began to do their shopping at Aunt’s, instead of her former place of work. Year after year, the profits piled up. “My only hope is that she’ll soon have a husband, but that does not look like it is going to happen,” sighed Granny. Aunt just smiled. People flocked to her shop in greater numbers.


By the time I began attending college, Aunt had built a house of her own. Although it was not luxurious, it was cosy and decent. For four years, most of my expenses for studying and living were borne by her since my parents were poor farmers with a large family. Aunt was still young, I was in my late teens, and I became closer to her than to my mother. I visited her often, usually on holidays, travelling the long distance between my college and the heart of the town. There were many times I buried my face in her bosom and cried my eyes out. “You can realise its problems only when you are in love,” she said. “Weep to your heart’s content, but don’t be disappointed.”

When I started going out with An, she did not object. She only said: “Now that you are in love, you’ll have to accept what comes to you – good or bad.”

Mother was totally against our affair because An worked a long way away, about a thousand kilometres from my house and his family belonged to, in her opinion, a dubious circle of traders.

Aunt then told me that she was in love as well. I was very glad.

“When are you going to get married?” “Never.” Surprised, I looked at her closely. At 30, she was still very attractive. It would be an injustice if such a beautiful woman was not loved by anyone. If only I looked like her or Mother, just a bit, things could have been different for me. Instead, I inherited the brown complexion and slanting eyes from Dad.

“Aunt, tell me about your love, please,” I urged her. She smiled in a vague way for a few seconds, then said: “He is married already, and lives a normal life with his wife and children.” “A married man?” I could hardly breathe. “Nobody can persuade or coerce me into doing anything against my will,” she hastened to add, for fear that I might think badly of the man.

But I was not going to keep silent. “He loves you, but doesn’t leave his wife, does he? Bastard.” She kept her head down for a few minutes and then said: “Maybe it’s his cowardice that makes me love him. Sometimes, love and sympathy are two sides of an issue, and sometimes they’re different. For me, what I’m badly in need of is love and that will do.”

I felt bitter. I was both angry and sympathetic. Usually, she was a practical woman, but now she had become so credulous and romantic.


That Saturday, I went to town by bicycle. I had just received An’s letter asking me to come to his place immediately to discuss our affair and come to a decision soon. I was in two minds. To go to him or wait for something new. It was in the middle of the rainy season, but the weather was fine that day. The blue sky forecast a beautiful night. I reached the town at twilight. Riding my bicycle among couples on motorcycles or expensive bicycles going to and fro under the dazzling lights, most of them happy-looking young people, I felt sorry for my lonely and quiet life in the country. After graduating from university, I should have gone to the south together with An or accepted the job offered to me in the town as Aunt suggested. I had done neither. With all my belongings in my hands, I reached a secondary school in a remote area as a teacher, a crusader come to enlighten the countryside. More than a year had passed. Contrary to expectations, my health had only worsened. Would there be any change? I asked myself. Apart from disappointment at unachieved dreams, I bore another pain in my heart: our love seemed set to turn in another direction.

“When you’re fed up with your teaching, you can come here. I’ll let you take over this shop, or get you a much better job,” Aunt had said. Was it time now to take her up on the offer?

The door was locked. Luckily, I had a spare key she had given me. Entering the house, I found a message for me on the table: “Food’s in the fridge. Money in the wardrobe. I’ll be back late.” I cooked the dinner and ate it by myself. After that I watched TV and then read An’s letter. “I always ask myself if we really love each other when we still resort to this objective reasoning. We just expect something to come to us naturally, not daring to overcome obstacles to being beside each other,” he wrote.

Hearing a noise outside, I lifted the window curtain and looked out. It was eleven o’clock at night. Aunt stood under the eaves, close to a tall man leaning against his crutch. From inside of the house I could overhear her say in a low voice: “Come here tomorrow? Oh no, the day after tomorrow’s better. Or else I’ll see you at the cross roads.” They stood side by side in silence in the wonderful moonlight. My aunt was wearing a rose blouse. Her shining and luxurious hair fell to her shoulders.

“Can you see the moon?” asked the man after a long silence.

“Yes, of course,” she answered nestling her head against his chest. “Kiss me,” she told him. Putting the crutch carefully under his armpit, he bent down as Aunt tried to straighten up her body to receive his kiss. What a long, burning kiss! It seemed to me that it contained everything: happiness, suffering and long waiting. It was not until midnight that I heard heavy thuds on the pavement recede farther and farther.


She lay close to me, took my hand and placed it on her belly. “I’m going to have a baby, dear,” she whispered. I was startled. “I’d thought that I would never have one, but now I am certain.” “You’re very happy, aren’t you?” I asked.


There was simple truth in her voice. “Are you sure that he really loves you?” “Certain. And if it’s not quite so, it would make no difference. What I need is to be beside the man I love. That’s all!”

“Aren’t you afraid of suffering?” I asked.

“If you are, stay away from love, that’s all,” she said firmly, turning her back towards me. Soon she fell asleep.

I tossed and turned all night.

The next morning I got up very early to get everything ready for my long journey. When she found me packing, she was very surprised.

“I’ve made up my mind to go, Aunt. I am going to An’s house.” She cried, hugging me tightly.

“Are you certain that you can manage there?” “I don’t know for sure. It’ll be all right as long as we are still in love.”

“Yes, yes, that’s right,” she sobbed. “Write to me if you meet with any difficulty. But I believe that you’ll be happy together.”

Dawn was breaking. The horizon was glowing bright and rosy, seeming to promise a much better future. Aunt led me to the balcony and pointed at the slowly rising sun. “Do you know this? The day always belongs to the sun.”

Her eyes flashed with the reflection of countless sunbeams.

Translated by Van Minh
Source: (where you will find other wonderful short stories from Viet Nam)



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