Ru / Kim Thuy; translated from the French by Sheila Fischman.
Toronto: Vintage Canada, c2012.
I'm late to the party with this book; I think everyone I know read it ages ago. It was hugely popular when it was published, nominated for and winning various Canadian awards and being talked about everywhere.
But I read Man first, Thuy's second novel (and enjoyed it) so thought it was about time I picked up this brief and beautiful book as well.
It really does deserve all its accolades. Told in brief segments, anywhere from a few lines to a few pages long, it captures the memories of a young woman who had to leave war-torn Vietnam as a child, escaping by boat with her family. It moves back and forth in time, from Vietnam to their refugee camp in Malaysia, to her experiences of coming to Canada - the culture shock, the snow! - to her present reflections on her past. I liked it very much.
The story sounds like someone is talking, it moves like memory does, from one fragment to another, very rapidly. It's dream-like, the images vibrant and really the whole point of the book. The narrative, such as it is, deals with the fact of displacement and war. It is all about the felt experience of this young woman who is telling us, rather detachedly, about life begun in chaos in Vietnam and how she's come to have this new life in Quebec, feeling like she half-belongs to each.
So the strength and thrust of the book lies in its storytelling, in the beautiful twists and turns of language and the precious fragility of memories. It captures moments both terrible and redemptive. And it evokes a place and time with an intensely personal perspective which makes it unforgettable. It's a brief read, but it lingers in the mind.