Trevor reviews Ru

Giller Prize night is only a week away and reviews from Shadow Giller jurors are coming fast and furious. The latest is Trevor’s review of Kim Thúy’s Ru — a novel that KfC reviewed way back in January. Trevor’s full review is here. For a taste, here are the opening paragraphs of his thoughts:

After my response to Alix Ohlin’s Inside (here), I was wary to continue my Giller shortlist reading. None of the five books is one I would have sought out were it not for the Giller Prize, though often I’m happily surprised with the discoveries the prize leads to. I was hopeful, then, that Ru (2009; tr. from the French by Sheila Fischman, 2012) might just be this year’s discovery. After all, it won Canada’s Governor General’s Award when it was first published in French, and my admiration for translator Sheila Fischman is growing. Still, after hearing others say it is a Hallmark-card book and very typical of sentimental immigrant stories, I had my doubts.

I’m happy to say that I liked Ru quite a bit. It’s not a book I’d rush out to promote on the streets, but if it wins the Giller Prize I wouldn’t think this was a bad year, after all (if Inside wins, however . . .).

Our first-person narrator, Nguyen An Tinh, was born in 1968, in Saigon, Vietnam, during the Tet Offensive, as was our author (just how much of this is fact and how much fiction, I don’t know). She’s telling this story many years removed from that day and half a world away from Saigon. Now a mother of two, she lives in Quebec, and this book is an attempt to connect the dots, to make some kind of narrative, between Saigon and Quebec. It’s a worthy goal but is perhaps ultimately futile. As she says of her own children: “Because of our exile, my children have never been extensions of me, of my history.”

Told in a series of short vignettes, this novel of fragments mimics the fragmented life the narrator has lived. Finding themselves enemies to their own country, when the narrator is ten years old she and her family escape Vietnam with the boat people, going first to Malaysia and then to Canada. I felt the fragmented style worked without becoming annoying. In fact, I rather liked the flow and found the segments, most not even a page in length and seemingly in random order, nicely written, bearing a sense of gravity common in such books, but also showing some nuance that is often absent when writers feel the gravity is enough.

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2 Responses to “Trevor reviews Ru

  1. Sandra Keats Says:

    I have a Vietnam/Chinese daughter-in-law and this is not how it happened with her family. That family is more loyal to one another. closer and more closed than the Canadian family she married into. The resulting children, my grandchildren, are being inculcated with that culture to an unbelievable extent.

  2. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Sandra: I am not sure if you have read the book but the family presented in Ru is not portrayed as being typical of Vietnamese refugees. The narrators family were closely aligned with the French (which is why they ended up in Quebec in Canada) and were semi-aristocrats some time back. You do raise a very good point — care should be taken to not assume all refugees are the same. Vincent Lam’s The Headmaster’s Wager comes from the same period, but has a very different story.

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