Ru, a novel by Kim Thuy

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diaCRITICS will periodically post blogs from other places. So our next guest blog is from Isabelle Thuy Pelaud, writing on Ru, a novel by Kim Thuy, published in 2009 by Libre Expression:

I started Ru by Kim Thuy and could not put it down. Written in French, Ru is not very long (145 pages), but its chronicle of the author’s journey from Vietnam to Canada ranks among the best articulations I have read of the experiences of the Vietnamese, particularly the 1.5 generation, in the Diaspora. The language is clear and direct but also poetic. The author does not hide behind allegories. Ru is the memoir of a Vietnamese professional woman, from an old establishment family, who in the end left Vietnam by boat and became a refugee. The outlines of the story are not new: past privilege, dangerous journey on the seas, downward mobility, personal identity entangled with social and cultural memory of a lost country, complex family dynamics, sorting sources of inspiration and pain…. The voice however is original. The poetic style of the prose does not sacrifice meaning but deepens it. Each sentence adds layers of evocation that together capture with acute precision what she calls this empty identity (“ce vide identitaire”), that sense of having been uprooted by force and everything that ensues, like the process of forgetting that comes with new privileges in the host country, with raising children with a non-Vietnamese father, or simply with the years passing by.  The narrator describes herself as dark (“sombre”) and remembers being in the shadow of others in Vietnam, especially that of her cousin. Her mother’s younger brother could be playful and flamboyant and spoil his daughter like a princess. As the daughter of the responsible older daughter however, the narrator received far less praise and much tougher love, especially with war approaching and the eventual journey that turned her and family into refugees. Now a mother herself, she comes to a deeper understanding of her own mother and of her actions and finally of the meaning of love.  This book is beautifully and powerfully written; I highly recommend it to those who read French – others should look forward to its translation.

Read more about Kim Thuy in English here.

Isabelle Thuy Pelaud is an associate professor of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University. Temple University Press will soon publish her book this is all i choose to tell: Hybridity and History in Vietnamese American Literature.

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  1. And here is another one about War and Peace.
    Damn but once started, I am finding it impossible to put the book down. Well, I stopped for a few minutes in order to write this reply. For your reading pleasure, I hope you can find this book.
    As a child, I thought that war and peace were opposites. Yet I lived in peace when Vietnam was in flames and I didn’t experience war until Vietnam had laid down its weapons. I believe that war and peace are actually friends, who mock us. They treat us like enemies when it suits them, with no concern for the definition or the role we give them. Perhaps, then, we shouldn’t take too much stock in the appearance of one or the other to decide our views. I was lucky enough to have parents who were able to hold their gaze steady, no matter the mood of the moment. My mother often recited the proverb that was written on the blackboard of her eighth-grade class in Saigon: Ðời là chiến trận, nếu buồn là thua. Life is a struggle in which sorrow leads to defeat.

  2. Here is a passage from the book. I am only beginning to read it (the English version) so I can’t say if it’s best representative of the author’s style. But from what little I have read, I really like her style.

    Before our boat had weighed anchor in the middle of the night on the shores of Rach Gia, most of the passengers had just one fear: fear of the Communists, the reason for their flight. But as soon as the vessel was surrounded, encircled by the uniform blue horizon, fear was transformed into a hundred-faced monster who sawed off our legs and kept us from feeling the stiffness in our immobilized muscles. We were frozen in fear, by fear. We no longer closed our eyes when the scabious little boy’s pee sprayed us. We no longer pinched our noses against our neighbours’ vomit. We were numb, imprisoned by the shoulders of some, the legs of others, the fear of everyone. We were paralyzed.

    The story of the little girl who was swallowed up by the sea after she’d lost her footing while walking along the edge spread through the foul-smelling belly of the boat like an anaesthetic or laughing gas, transforming the single bulb into a polar star and the biscuits soaked in motor oil into butter cookies. The taste of oil in our throats, on our tongues, in our heads sent us to sleep to the rhythm of the lullaby sung by the woman beside me.

  3. Isabelle & diaCritters, is there a passage that can be shared from this novel? I find that is the best way to share the work with an audience that does not have access and, for me, is the primary objective of literature reviews. Thank you.


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