Ru: A Novel

( 1 )

Overview

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 ...

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Ru: A Novel

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Overview

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.

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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.)
From the Publisher
Winner of the Governor General's Literary Award

Finalist for the Giller Prize

"[A] moving autobiographical novel... Thuy's poetic vignettes, set along the way from Southeast Asia to Quebec, bring specificity to the familiar immigrant journey." - Susannah Meadows, The New York Times

"This extraordinary first novel unfolds like ethereal poetry…. this is much more than another immigration story. For readers in search of intricate, mesmerizing narrative, Ru will not disappoint." - Library Journal, starred review

"Less is more in this slim, award-winning autobiographical novel... This flow of memories [goes] beyond the refugee experience to touch on war and peace, the strength of maternal love, even the devastation of autism... Ru means 'stream' in French and 'lullaby' in Vietnamese; both are apt for this luminous first novel of memories strung together in concise yet lyrical and sensuous prose." - Booklist, starred review

"Unsentimental... poetic and powerful." - The Guardian

"Gloriously, passionately, delicately unique... A remarkable book." - The Chronicle Journal

Library Journal
The recipient of international accolades—including Canada's coveted Governor General's Award (2010) for its original Canadian debut in French—this extraordinary first novel unfolds like ethereal poetry. The enigmatic title means "a small stream and, figuratively, a flow, a discharge—of tears, blood, of money" in French; in Vietnamese, it's a "lullaby, to lull." Made up of spare vignettes that flow through decades, this autobiographical narrative reveals a girl's journey from wealthy privilege in Vietnam; her reinvention as a war refugee in Canada; her return to her birth country, where she is considered "too fat to be Vietnamese"—not because of her stature, but because "the American dream had made me more substantial, heavier, weightier"; and her own overwhelming motherhood. VERDICT Interwoven with glimpses of cousin Sao Mai, who was Uncle Two's princess, of a father "who always inspired the greatest, most wonderful happiness," of Aunt Seven's mystery son, raised by Aunt Four, and of young cousins and what they innocently did on the streets to survive, this is much more than another immigration story. For readers in search of intricate, mesmerizing narrative, Ru will not disappoint.—Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon, Washington, DC
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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781608198986
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • Publication date: 11/27/2012
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 160
  • Sales rank: 342,371
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.50 (d)

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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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 10, 2013

    great work

    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.

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