Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Kim Thúy: 'Ru' (2009, 2012), Take I

Kim Thúy, Ru. New York: Translated from the French by Sheila Fischman. New York: Bloomsbury, 2012; originally published in French in 2009.

This is a lovely short novel, organized as a series of interconnected (but mostly capable of standing alone) short chapters that look on the page like prose poems or flash pieces. 

Ru has the gravitas of a personal nonfiction account. I found it completely absorbing on a first read and can imagine combing through it again soon to see what I missed.  

"I came into the world during the Tet Offensive, in the early days of the Year of the Monkey, when the long chains of firecrackers draped in front of houses exploded polyphonically along with the sound of machine guns." (page 1) 

An Tinh Nguyen, the main protagonist, is born in Saigon. French and Vietnamese culture are strong in her childhood years, even after the American War when the country is unified. Eventually, she escapes with members of her family to Malaysia, until they are taken in by Canadians and relocated to Quebec. 
I appreciate the fact that Ru is mostly neutral on the opposing sides of the war and its aftermath, allowing the reader to focus instead on what it's like to be a war child and refugee. 

Throughout Ru, we are taken as if by the hand to see conditions in Vietnam during and after the American War, in boats and refugee camps, and in a new, unfamiliar land -- Canada. We see the family of An Tinh Nguyen and come to understand something of its structure (Aunt Seven, Step-Uncle Six, Cousin Sao Mai, etcetera), and see what it's like to become accustomed to a new country, while still yearning for the old. 

Deft and memorable. 

Today's Rune: Initiation.  

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