From the perspective of old age, the ""I"" narrator of this eerie and compact autobiographical novel--which won the 1985 Prix Goncourt in France and has sold 700,000 copies there--relives her troubled adolescence by means of weighted images: frozen memories of her impoverished, harried mother, a schoolmistress in pre-World War II French Indochina, where the narrator grew up; of the narrator's two brothers, the older one corrupt and menacing, the younger mute and gentle but meant to die at a young age; and of herself at 15, especially aboard a ferry crossing the Mekong River into Saigon, dressed in thin silk, an old felt hat and golden sandals. She uses these clothes to seduce a wealthy Chinese merchant (scorned by the French colonists) and to free herself, for a time, from the emotional demands of a sordid family life. (The Chinese lover is the first of hundreds--or it is implied that he is--who will never fully succeed in distracting her from her feelings of shame.) The connections that Duras is trying for remain hazy. And yet the characters--who have no dramatic roles to play here--emerge as dark symbols that have a psychological immediacy for the narrator that can here and there be shared. Again and again, the novel returns to the seduction, and to sex, and has a moody power that Duras fans will welcome and applaud.