We lost power for over 24 hours, thank to Super Storm Sandy, so I decided to re-read this beautiful book.
Kim Thúy’s novel, Ru was shortlisted for this year’s Giller Award. Released in its original French in 2010, it won the French-language Governor-General’s Award that same year, and has secured foreign rights in 15 countries. (Though according to a rep at Random House Canada, I have been told a U.S. publication date has not been established.) The English translation has been crafted beautifully by Sheila Fischman. While I was reading, I sensed the tenderness and integrity Fischman brought to this project. (But I would now like to read Ru in French!)
Ru is a fictional memoir told in beautiful vignettes that weave us through An Tinh’s escape from Vietnam to her time in a Malaysian refugee camp to her new life in Canada. The novel begins with a note on the meaning of ru. In French, it denotes a small stream or a flow – of water, blood, tears or almost anything else. In Vietnamese, ru means a lullaby.
The opening that follows, gives us a good idea of what’s in store:
I came into the world during the Tet Offensive, in the early days of the Year of the Monkey, when the long chains of firecrackers draped in front of houses exploded polyphonically along with the sound of the machine guns.
I first saw the light of day in Saigon, where firecrackers, fragmented into a thousand shreds, coloured the ground red like the petals of cherry blossoms or like the blood of the two million soldiers deployed and scattered through the villages and cities of a Vietnam that had been ripped in two.
I was born in the shadow of skies adorned with fireworks, decorated with garlands of light, shot through with rockets and missiles. The purpose of my birth was to replace lives that had been lost. My life’s duty was to prolong that of my mother.
I love the form this book takes and feel that the way Thúy tells us this story fully captures how we remember events from the past. Our recollections help form the big picture but it’s the snippets of memory, of moments along the way, that fit together like a puzzle and create the full portrait of a life. Even in its entirety life can be messy but whole, disjointed and connected at the same time. But from the chaos and uncertainty, physical and moral strength and endurance can emerge and sustain us.
Prior to the Giller Awards gala event, Thúy did a quick Q & A session with CBC Books.
I would suggest you take a few minutes to watch this video of Thúy, as she talks about writing Ru and the immigrant experience. Thúy has become my new favourite person. She’s bright, funny and quirky. Around these parts, we call that adorakable!
Read her book; won’t you? It’s one of my most favourite reads of 2012.