Deciphering the Code to Vietnam's Old Literary Treasures

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An American poet, John Balaban, who first came to Vietnam as a conscientious objector during the war and who has nurtured a love affair with the country ever since, is leading a drive to revive Nom, which was banned in 1920 by the French colonial government and officially replaced by script based on the Roman alphabet that Alexander de Rhodes, a French missionary, devised in the 17th century.

"Nom keeps a flavor of a culture washed away with the language of the Roman alphabet," Mr. Balaban said. "There are real literary treasures and still a lot of texts that have not been translated."

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