Kimbofo has launched herself into the Giller short list with a review of Ru — her full review is here. She and I had a very similar response to the novel — my review is here. Here are the opening paragraphs from Kimbofo’s review to give you a taste:
When Kim Thúy’s Ru was published in its original French language it won the Governor General’s Award for French language fiction at the 2010 Governor General’s Awards. Now the English edition, translated by the Canadian translator Sheila Fischman, has been shortlisted for the 2012 Giller Prize.
A refugee’s tale
Ru is an elegantly written tale about a woman who emigrates to Canada from Vietnam as a boat person. The narrator, Nguyên An Tinh, was born during the Tet Offensive, in the early days of the Year of the Monkey, “when the long chain of firecrackers draped in front of houses exploded polyphonically along with the sound of machine guns”.
The book reads very much like a fictionalised memoir (Thúy was also born in 1968 and came to Canada with her family as a refugee), but it doesn’t follow the normal conventions, particularly in terms of structure and narrative. In some ways it feels like a long poem, broken into extended stanzas (short chapters), in which the narrator recalls certain incidences from her life, and the lives of her parents, cousins and other relations, in non-chronological order. This means her narrative continually switches from the present — where she is a mother of an autistic son — to the past — the privileged life she led in Vietnam, the stint in a Malaysian Red Cross camp, a treacherous journey across the ocean — then back again.