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Harry Potter Fever Sweeps Vietnam

Vietnam joined the world in falling under Harry Potter's spell as a local publishing house rolled out the first full-length version of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone this week to rave reviews.

"We've never had a storybook like this," said Quach Thu Nguyet, vice-director of the Ho Chi Minh City-based publisher, the Youth Publishing House. "In the past, we only had comic books for children."

The book, translated into Vietnamese, is not the first Harry Potter exposure people here have had. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was first published in September but in an unusual format: It was divided into seven smaller paperbacks with each part released a week at a time.

It was followed by a serialized version of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, divided into eight parts. It's planned that all four Harry Potter books will be published this way.

The intention was to make it affordable for children, particularly those in poorer, rural areas, said Nguyet. Each part sells for 4,500 dong (about 35 cents).

"Mondays are when the new books come out," said Nguyen Thi Thu, 42, who runs a small newsstand in Hanoi. "If they're not on time, the people get very anxious. They're addicted to these books and I'm not talking about the children."

She admits to reading them herself, saying "They're wonderful. Even though they're written for children, adults can enjoy them too."

So far, more than 40,000 copies of the two serialized versions have sold making it the best-selling foreign book ever in Vietnam. Though the number is small compared to other countries such as the United States, it makes for a runaway hit in Vietnam where the average press-run for books is only 2,000 copies.

Vietnamese teen-agers and grown-ups also have discovered the charms of the magic and derring-do of Harry Potter, the English boy wizard at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in J.K. Rowling's imaginative series, which has become a global phenomenon.

The full-length version released this week was done especially with adults in mind, said Nguyet. The publishing house decided to issue the longer version after it discovered that reading forums on Harry Potter drew nearly as many adults as children.

Vietnam's official Harry Potter Fan Club was set up in Ho Chi Minh City two months ago.

The attraction of the stories is in their universal themes, said the Potter books' translator Ly Lan.

"Harry is a kind of hero. He's a poor boy, an orphan who tries his best in hard circumstances. He has a good heart. He likes to protect people and fight against the dark forces. That's something that Vietnamese like very much," she said.

"People in Vietnam are just like people anywhere. They like what is famous, what is popular," she said.

Lan was responsible for bringing the books to Vietnam. After reading them during a trp to the United States, she brought several back to Vietnam hoping to get a publisher interested in printing them.

Earlier this year, she succeeded in getting Youth Publishing House to buy the rights to publish it.

However, publishing houses seldom take a chance on foreign-authored books of fiction since there is generally very little public interest. Getting it approved through Vietnam's conservative censors is also difficult.

In the end, the publishers agreed to print 10,000 copies. The public response was overwhelming and they have gone back to do a fourth printing.

"I think this was a test to see if the people and the government have an open mind to the West," Ly said. "I think we will sell 100,000 copies of the books soon."