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.
Mardi, 09 Février 2010 15:12
Kim Thuy Ly, a Université de Montréal graduate
Kim Thuy Ly, a double Université de Montréal graduate, has reinvented herself several times since fleeing her native Vietnam in 1978. From the age of 10, shortly after she arrived in Quebec, she has worked as a vegetable picker, seamstress and cashier during her studies.
Since completing her degrees in law (1993) as well as in linguistics and translation (1990), she has worked as a translator, interpreter, lawyer, restaurateur, food commentator and most recently as a novelist.
Her incredible journey is the narrative of her debut novel Ru (Libre Expression). The title of her autobiography means small stream in French or lullaby in Vietnamese. The book became an instant sensation in Quebec and France and it will soon be available in Italian, Swedish, German and Spanish.
“Kim Thuy's writing flows like poetry – it transports and appeases. It is powerful and evocative,” says French newspaper Le Figaro. “This first novel provides a rare feeling of bliss.”
Born in Saigon in 1968, Kim Thuy left her native Vietnam with her parents and two brothers to flee from a regime of repression. Their impossible adventure began in the nauseating hold of a fishing boat followed by a painful stay in a Malaysian refugee camp before eventually ending in Quebec, where her family learned to adapt to an extremely different lifestyle. The most memorable moments of their adventures are poetically conveyed in Ru, which resembles a series of inspiring post cards.
Montreal newspaper La Presse describes the success of Ru as a fairytale for Kim Thuy: “The fact that she is winning over the hearts of so many readers in what isn't her native tongue isn't surprising. ‘I am a child of Bill 101, a Francophile and a Francophone in my soul,' she says. ‘I speak Vietnamese, of course, but it is the Vietnamese of childhood or cooking. The language in which I think and feel most is French.'”
Kim Thuy is grateful to her alma mater for contributing to her success. “The six years of education I received from the Université de Montréal not only prepared me to work as a translator and lawyer – those years helped me become an independent adult. I learned about the beauty of knowledge, the satisfaction of effort and the desire for excellence. In short, the Université de Montréal provided me with the necessary tools to appreciate the colours of everyday life and the subtleties that lie beneath.”
Both of Kim Thuy's brothers are also Université de Montréal graduates: Nhon Ly in mathematics (1993-1997) and Tin Ly in dentistry (1995).