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Ru
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Ru

3.0 2
by Kim Thúy
 

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Winner of the Governor General's Literary AwardWinner of the Grand Prix RTL-LireShortlisted for the Prix des cinq continents de la Francophonie
Longlisted for Canada Reads 2015

At ten years old, Kim Thúy fled Vietnam on a boat with her family, leaving behind a grand house and the many less tangible riches of their home country: the

Overview

Winner of the Governor General's Literary AwardWinner of the Grand Prix RTL-LireShortlisted for the Prix des cinq continents de la Francophonie
Longlisted for Canada Reads 2015

At ten years old, Kim Thúy fled Vietnam on a boat with her family, leaving behind a grand house and the many less tangible riches of their home country: the ponds of lotus blossoms, the songs of soup-vendors. The family arrived in Quebec, where they found clothes at the flea market, and mattresses with actual fleas. Kim learned French and English, and as she grew older, seized what opportunities an immigrant could; she put herself through school picking vegetables and sewing clothes, worked as a lawyer and interpreter, and later as a restaurateur. She was married and a mother when the urge to write struck her, and she found herself scribbling words at every opportunity - pulling out her notebook at stoplights and missing the change to green. The story emerging was one of a Vietnamese émigré on a boat to an unknown future: her own story fictionalized and crafted into a stunning novel.

The novel's title, Ru, has meaning in both Kim's native and adoptive languages: in Vietnamese, ru is a lullaby; in French, a stream. And it provides the perfect name for this slim yet potent novel. With prose that soothes and sings, Ru weaves through time, flows and transports: a river of sensuous memories gathering power. It's a classic immigrant story told in a breathtaking new way.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Rendered in spare vignettes, Kim’s lyrical debut novel is an autobiographical impression of motherhood and exile. Forced to flee their privileged, intellectual life in Communist Saigon, Nguyen An Tinh (an “extension” of her almost identically named mother and a stand-in for Thúy), born during the Tet offensive, navigates the Gulf of Siam bound for a Malaysian refugee camp, where she and her family live for several months before making their way to Canada. There, Nguyen is blinded by the whiteness of the snow and the blankness of her slate. But her new home quickly makes its marks—she learns French and English, what to wear in the harsh Quebecois winters, and the ways in which the American dream extends its reach around the globe. The narrative wanders through time as Nguyen mourns her autistic son’s inability to say maman, recalls her childhood in Vietnam, and muses on the fork in her family tree that her life in the West represents. But like the married men Nguyen prefers, whose “ring fingers with their histories keep me remote, aloof, in the shadows,” the disjointed narrative keeps readers at a distance, allowing tender glimpses of Nguyen’s pain, but never fully exposing her. Agent: Ron Eckel, Cooke Agency. (Nov.)
Library Journal
Ten years old in 1978 when her family fled lotus-scented Saigon for Quebec, Thúy picked vegetables and sewed clothes to put herself through school and has worked variously as a lawyer, translator, and restaurateur. When she got the urge to write, the result was not memoir but a fictionalized account of her immigrant experiences that won Canada's Governor General Award. Good for discussion; early buzz campaign.
Kirkus Reviews
In her slim, partly autobiographical first novel, Thúy, a Vietnamese-Canadian writing in French, seeks to make sense through memories of a life straddling East and West. That life unfolds haphazardly. It belongs to Nguyen An Tinh. She was born into a prosperous family in Saigon in 1968. When the Communists took over seven years later, they also took over part of their house. In 1978, the family became boat people, crossing the pirate-infested Gulf of Siam to reach Malaysia. From a foul refugee camp there, they traveled to Canada. Their first year was "heaven on earth," and the country became their new home. At some point, Nguyen married a white Westerner and gave birth to twins, one of them autistic. So, you can package these details neatly, but it's not something Thúy cares to do, preferring a montage to a chronological narrative, a progression sustained by images of family life. Some of the family members make the cut because they're so colorful. There's Uncle Two (so named because he is the second born), a prominent Saigon politician and playboy who will report his fleeing sons to the Communist authorities; and retarded, unmarried Aunt Seven, who will mysteriously give birth in a convent. Nguyen's mother, a disciplinarian, runs their Saigon house, while her father, puzzlingly, is a blank; both parents take menial jobs in Canada for their children's future. Her husband only rates one mention; perhaps this is because she considers men "replaceable." (Maternal love is the only love that counts.) Nguyen herself, a silent, self-effacing shadow as a child, slowly blossoms; on a return journey to Vietnam, she understands how her fragile Vietnamese psyche has been covered by the armor of Western self-confidence. What has she learned? Travel light; don't regret what's past; enjoy "the unspeakable beauty of renewal." As a quest for identity, Thúy's work is not altogether satisfying, but her powerful scene-setting makes her a writer to watch.
From the Publisher
WINNER 2015 - Canada Reads
WINNER 2011 – Grand prix littéraire Archambault
WINNER 2011 – Mondello Prize for Multiculturalism
WINNER 2010 – Prix du Grand Public Salon du livre––Essai/Livre pratique
WINNER 2010 – Governor General’s Award for Fiction (French-language)
WINNER 2010 – Grand Prix RTL-Lire at the Salon du livre de Paris
Longlisted 2013 – Man Asian Literary Prize
Longlisted 2014 – International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award
Nominated 2012 – Amazon.ca First Novel Award
Shortlist 2012 - Scotiabank Giller Prize
Shortlist 2012 – Governor General’s Literary Award for Translation

“This is one of the millions of stories of migration in this country, the story of a woman migrating from Vietnam to Canada . . . It is harrowing, beautiful, and has compressed, perfect writing. This is the story of the future of Canada.”
Cameron Bailey, Artistic Director of the Toronto International Film Festival, defending Ru at Canada Reads 2015

"This is an exemplary autobiographical novel. Never is there the slightest hint of narcissism or self-pity. The major events in the fall of Vietnam are painted in delicate strokes, through the daily existence of a woman who has to reinvent herself elsewhere. A tragic journey described in a keen, sensitive and perfectly understated voice."
—Governor General's Literary Award jury citation

“Gloriously, passionately, delicately unique….  A remarkable book; one that has well-earned every note of praise it has received.”
The Chronicle Journal
 
“Powerful and engaging.... In short entries that read lyrically and poetically—but also powerfully, pungently, and yet gently, dispassionately—Ru blends politics and history, celebration and violence within a young girl’s imaginative experience…. [I]ts hybrid and enchanted voice conjur[es] a love song out of chaos and pain, singing and rilling its simplicities.”
Winnipeg Free Press

“In a series of vignettes which extend from wartime Vietnam to the hospitable precincts of Quebec, Kim Thúy writes with equal delicacy and candor about a childhood marked by horrifying brutality, and the pleasures of ordinary peace. A brave and moving book, bringing lucid insight both to the costs of violence, and elusive processes of psychic survival.”
—Eva Hoffman, author of Lost in Translation

From the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781608198986
Publisher:
Bloomsbury USA
Publication date:
11/27/2012
Pages:
160
Sales rank:
284,850
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.50(d)

Read an Excerpt

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 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 throughout 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.

My name is Nguyen An Tịnh, my mother’s name is Nguyen An Tinh. My name is simply a variation on hers because a single dot under the i differentiates, distinguishes, dissociates me from her. I was an extension of her, even in the meaning of my name. In Vietnamese, hers means “peaceful environment” and mine “peaceful interior.” With those almost interchangeable names, my mother confirmed that I was the sequel to her, that I would continue her story.
 
The History of Vietnam, written with a capital H, thwarted my mother’s plans. History flung the accents on our names into the water when it took us across the Gulf of Siam thirty years ago. It also stripped our names of their meaning, reducing them to sounds at once strange, and strange to the French language. In particular, when I was ten years old it ended my role as an extension of my mother.

Because of our exile, my children have never been extensions of me, of my history. Their names are Pascal and Henri, and they don’t look like me. They have hair that’s lighter in colour than mine, white skin, thick eyelashes. I did not experience the natural feelings of motherhood I’d expected when they were clamped onto my breasts at 3 a.m., in the middle of the night. The maternal instinct came to me much later, over the course of sleepless nights, dirty diapers, unexpected smiles, sudden delights.
 
Only then did I understand the love of the mother sitting across from me in the hold of our boat, the head of the baby in her arms covered with foul-smelling scabies. That image was before my eyes for days and maybe nights as well. The small bulb hanging from a wire attached to a rusty nail spread a feeble, unchanging light. Deep inside the boat there was no distinction between day and night. The constant illumination protected us from the vastness of the sea and the sky all around us. The people sitting on deck told us there was no boundary between the blue of the sky and the blue of the sea. No one knew if we were heading for the heavens or plunging into the water’s depths. Heaven and hell embraced in the belly of our boat. Heaven promised a turning point in our lives, a new future, a new history. Hell, though, displayed our fears: fear of pirates, fear of starvation, fear of poisoning by biscuits soaked in motor oil, fear of running out of water, fear of being unable to stand up, fear of having to urinate in the red pot that was passed from hand to hand, fear that the scabies on the baby’s head was contagious, fear of never again setting foot on solid ground, fear of never again seeing the faces of our parents, who were sitting in the darkness surrounded by two hundred people.

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.
 
My father had made plans, should our family be captured by Communists or pirates, to put us to sleep forever, like Sleeping Beauty, with cyanide pills. For a long time afterwards, I wanted to ask why he hadn’t thought of letting us choose, why he would have taken away our possibility of survival. I stopped asking myself that question when I became a mother, when Dr. Vinh, a highly regarded surgeon in Saigon, told me how he had put his five children, one after the other, from the boy of twelve to the little girl of five, alone, on five different boats, at five different times, to send them off to sea, far from the charges of the Communist authorities that hung over him. He was certain he would die in prison because he’d been accused of killing some Communist comrades by operating on them, even if they’d never set foot in his hospital. He hoped to save one, maybe two of his children by launching them in this fashion onto the sea. I met Dr. Vinh on the church steps, which he cleared of snow in the winter and swept in the summer to thank the priest who had acted as father to his children, bringing up all five, one after the other, until they were grown, until the doctor got out of prison.
 
I didn’t cry out and I didn’t weep when I was told that my son Henri was a prisoner in his own world, when it was confirmed that he is one of those children who don’t hear us, don’t speak to us, even though they’re neither deaf nor mute. He is also one of those children we must love from a distance, neither touching, nor kissing, nor smiling at them because every one of their senses would be assaulted by the odour of our skin, by the intensity of our voices, the texture of our hair, the throbbing of our hearts. Probably he’ll never call me maman lovingly, even if he can pronounce the word poire with all the roundness and sensuality of the oi sound. He will never understand why I cried when he smiled for the first time. He won’t know that, thanks to him, every spark of joy has become a blessing and that I will keep waging war against autism, even if I know already that it’s invincible. Already, I am defeated, stripped bare, beaten down.

Meet the Author

Kim Thúy was born in Saigon and arrived in Quebec at age ten in 1978. She has degrees from the University of Montreal in linguistics and translation and in law, and lives in Montreal, where she now devotes herself to writing.

Sheila Fischman is a two-time winner of both the Canada Council Prize for Translation and Columbia University's Felix-Antoine Savard Award, and has also received the Governor General's Award for Translation and the Molson Prize for the Arts.

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Ru 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not as expected after reading the free sample. Dissappointing flits from one senerio to another, from one time frame to another. Very confusing not entertaining
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thuy has startling facility with the English language and is able to convey the myriad emotions of a family's emigration from Vietnam and immigration to Canada. The scenes in this memoir are crystal clear and very powerful.