Kim Thuy is a writer based in Montreal. Ru, her first novel, won the Governor General's Literary Award in its original French.
Ru is an autobiographical novel that recounts the author's flight as a refugee from Vietnam to Quebec as a young girl, and the culture shocks she experiences as she adjusts to her new homeland.
It is somewhat misleading to label this book a novel, because it is really halfway between a novel - a sustained linear narrative - and poetry - a collection of insightful, finely-crafted and evocative images.
This beautiful book - the hardcover edition is as attractive physically as is the writing - opens with the explanation that "In French, ru means a small stream and, figuratively, a flow, a discharge - of tears, of blood, of money. In Vietnamese, ru means a lullaby, to lull."
And this double-meaning is in fact very appropriate for this book which flows between cultures, between times, between emotions.
The pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus observed that "you cannot step in the same river twice" - in other words, there is no being, only becoming - a sentiment conveyed perfectly in this volume.
Thuy recounts the flow from a family life of privilege in Saigon to misery as refugees, the harbinger of impending change sensed by her mother:
"My mother waged her first battles later, without sorrow. She went to work for the first time at the age of thirty-four, first as a cleaning lady, then at jobs in plants, factories, restaurants. Before, in the life that she had lost, she was the eldest daughter of her prefect father. All she did was settle arguments between the French-food chef and the Vietnamese-food chef in the family courtyard (...)
However, far from us blood still flowed and bombs still fell, so she taught my brothers and me to get down on our knees like the servants. Every day, she made me wash four tiles on the floor and clean twenty sprouted beans by removing their roots one by one. She was preparing us for the collapse. She was right to do so, because very soon we no longer had a floor beneath our feet."
Ru is a beautiful, poetic meditation on the ever-changing human condition.
on April 13, 2013
The book was coherent and telling the story of the protagonist in a poetic style and at the same time letting me have an insight into the life of a family coming to Canada from Vietnam.
There is nothing in the book I disliked and I especially liked her style of writing, which flowed and was poetic.
I would recommend it to readers of any age, who enjoy lyrical writing.
Kim Thuy's slim volume, RU, is as much a novel as a fictionalized memoir and a reflection on the heroine's childhood in Vietnam, her escape as a ten-year-old with the boat people... and, via refugee camps in Malaysia, eventually, finding something like a home in Quebec... Like her heroine, she was born in Saigon during the Tet Offensive when circumstances for her family changed forever - from wealthy and respected Saigon family to people on the run without anything. She returned many years later to visit Vietnam where local people didn't recognize her anymore as Vietnamese: she "no longer had their frailty, their uncertainty, their fears."
Towards the end of the book, looking back on her earlier life, the narrator muses "...after only thirty years I already recognize our old selves only through fragments, through scars, through glimmers of light." It is these fragments, the scars and the glimmers of light that Kim Thuy has made the central theme of her book. Unusual in structure and beautifully, often lyrically written, the author's loosely connected vignettes paint an impressionistic, yet intimate portrait of the heroine, her family, her country and what it means to feel connected and uprooted at the same time. Evocative in her depiction of people and places, recalling memories and bringing out associations across time and space, the heroine recounts events and circumstances, essential or negligible, sometimes stories within stories. Like the workings of memory in our brains, nothing is told chronologically; much is only hinted at and, on superficial reading, not developed in depth. Connections between vignettes often hinge on one thought, one colour, one expression... Yet, taken together and letting the short fragments hold our attention for more than a moment or two, the reader is taken on a deeply moving voyage not only into the past of the heroine and her family, but also into the inner struggles of an individual displaced and disconnected from her roots, into her anxieties and fears to accept new ties that can bind... She travels with nothing much but her books, not wanting to weigh herself down with possessions, having learned that "we must never regret what we've left behind." Following another Vietnamese proverb - "Life is a struggle in which sorrow leads to defeat" - she balances sad memories with cheerful ones, accounts of brutality and despair with beauty and hope.
For RU Kim Thuy received, among other awards, the Canadian Governor General's Award for French language fiction and was shortlisted for the 2012 Scotiabank Giller Prize for the English version, exquisitely translated by award winning translator Sheila Fischman. [Friederike Knabe]
Random House of Canada|September 6, 2012|Trade Paperback|ISBN: 978-0-307-35970-4
Ru. In Vietnamese it means lullaby; in French it is a small stream, but also signifies a flow--of tears, blood, money. Kim Thuy's Ru is literature at its most crystalline: the flow of a life on the tides of unrest and on to more peaceful waters. In vignettes of exquisite clarity, sharp observation and sly wit, we are carried along on an unforgettable journey from a palatial residence in Saigon to a crowded and muddy Malaysian refugee camp, and onward to a new life in Quebec. There, the young girl feels the embrace of a new community, and revels in the chance to be part of the American Dream. As an adult, the waters become rough again: now a mother of two sons, she must learn to shape her love around the younger boy's autism. Moving seamlessly from past to present, from history to memory and back again, Ru is a book that celebrates life in all its wonder: its moments of beauty and sensuality, brutality and sorrow, comfort and comedy.
I thoroughly enjoyed the book but felt it was somehow `unfinished'. I really would have preferred to of had more detail in each section. I felt it lacked in detail and would have enhanced the story greatly if the author had of delved into the lives and experiences more deeply.
I can only imagine though the difficulties and challenges one would encounter being a refugee coming from Vietnam to Quebec. Talk about a culture shock!
Trying to raise an autistic child in a completely new world would be difficult at best and would present a myriad of challenges all on their own, challenges we probably couldn't even begin to fathom, but the author handled it with grace.
Overall, Ru was a most enjoyable experience.
Kim Thuy's Ru won The Governor General's Award for Fiction and was Finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize.
Ru was exquisitely translated by the award-winning Sheila Fischman.
In Vietnamese Ru means lullaby. In French it is a small stream, but also signifies a flow of tears, blood and money. This book is an autobiographical novel.
The young girl is the narrator of this story. Her name is Nguyen An Tinh with a dot under the i. The name means "peaceful Interior" in Vietnamese. Her mother has the same name but without the dot and her name means "peaceful environment". The History of Vietnam flung the accents of their names into the water, when it took her and her family across the Gulf of Siam thirty years ago. The young girl was born during the Tet Offensive in 1968, as the child of an upper class family in Saigon. When she was ten years old, she and her family emigrated out of Vietnam via Malaysian refugee camps, then boarding a boat to Canada. They arrived at Mirabel Airport in Quebec. She spoke very little. She is mute. On the boat, she and her family learned how to travel very light. One gentleman had no luggage, not even a small bag with warm clothes. He had on everything he owned. He had diamonds embedded in his molars, gold on his teeth and American dollars stuffed in his anus. Women had American dollars stuffed in their sanitary napkins. She had an acrylic bracelet, pink like the gums of the dental plate it had been made from, filled with diamonds. Her parents had also put diamonds in the collars of her brothers' shirts.
It is in Quebec, at the Sainte-Famille elementary school that a teacher named Jeanne embraced her nine Vietnamese students. The young girl called the teacher "our good fairy". Jeanne wore a T-shirt and pink tights and a flower in her hair. She liberated the young girl's voice without using words. Jeanne spoke to them with music, with her fingers and her shoulders. She showed them how to occupy the space around them by freeing their arms, by raising their chins and by breathing deeply. Her neck stretched out to form a continuous line with her shoulder, her arm and all the way to her fingertips. Her legs made great circular movements as if to sweep the walls and to stir the air. It was thanks to Jeanne that the young girl learned how to free her voice from the folds of her body so it could reach her lips.
As an adult, the waters again become rough. Now she is married and has two sons, Pascal and Henri. The younger boy is autistic.
What is characteristic of this book are the memories at different stages of her life. They are presented in non-chronological order. The book moves seamlessly from past to present. She now thinks back to her upper middle class childhood in Saigon and her life there, to the sufferings under the Communists, to her life in the refugee camps in Malaysia and how she was welcomed to Canada. She and her family had to adapt to a new culture while holding on to their tradition. Later in life, she returns to Vietnam as an Americanized Vietnamese woman.
After reading this book, I can see why Kim Thuy's Ru has won The Governor General's Literary Award for Fiction. This book is a GEM.
Although it is a sad topic, the author managed not to dwell on the sadness. Kim Thuy writes with delicacy and openness about a childhood marked with brutality and finally, the pleasures of ordinary peace - from violence to survival.
I loved this book. I also loved the poetic and delicate writing. I highly recommend this novel.
on April 11, 2013
This book opens one"s eyes and hearts to the plight of our Vietnamese immigrants. It would be a perfect gift to those who moan about their supposed hardships. Here are a people who lost all and suffered terrible hardships, who came to our beautiful country with nothing, They had to learn a new language and they prospered.
Ru is as good as it's title's promise, a beautiful meditation that never loses its haunting effect, even as it travels from sorrow to triumph to despair. This is a fine, original styled work that, coming in under 200 pages, is nowhere near overlong, and is far from self-indulgent. Thuy lets her work do the talking and the effect is a panorama of experience of those who escaped Vietnam and those who did not.
on January 16, 2013
This book is truly a gem. As one reads the pages, one can visualize the scenery, feel the emotions and understand the characters. It flows easily between past, present and future while maintaining the reader's engagement. The book also left me with a clearer understanding of the plight of the refugee and a keen pride as to the response of Canadians to the Vietnamese refugees during this time period.
on April 28, 2015
Ru is a memoir about of a Vietnamese refugee who has escaped the war torn Vietnam with her family. Although this is a fictional autobiography, the events described in the book feel so real, so personal. You can't help but feel that many of these accounts are based on Kim Thúy's personal experiences. Each page in the book is a vignette, a memory that takes us from the young girl's extravagant life in Saigon, to a decrepit refugee camp in Malaysia and finally to a new unfamiliar world in Granby, Quebec. We also get a glimpse into her adult life where she has a family of her own raising two children, one of whom we are lead to believe is autistic bringing forward the challenges of motherhood and the realization of what love really is.
Ru is beautifully written, almost lyrical. It puts the hardships of Vietnamese immigrants front and centre. We also get a sense of how communities in Canada, specifically Quebec, banded together to sponsor and support them as they transitioned into this new world.
In French, it means a small stream or flow; in Vietnamese, it means lullaby. Kim Thuy's "Ru" combines the meanings of this one syllable to produce a series of vignettes, which trace the narrator's immigrant experience.
These non-linear memories tell of a childhood in Vietnam and of a family's escape to a Malaysian refugee camp in 1978. Ultimately, the narrator lands in Montreal, comes of age there and raises a child who has autism. Intersecting common elements such as a skin tone, a bowl of soup or a scar, Thuy tells a fresh but classic multi-generational story entwining the themes of communication, memory, and motherhood.
Both Thuy and translator Sheila Fischman produce fluid and poetic text here and take meticulous care with language. Thuy's personification of the American Dream at times reads masterfully but the motif eventually grows tired and seems indiscriminate in a Canadian context. But overall, "Ru" displays impeccable craftsmanship and gives the reader a rich sense of time and place.