Wednesday, January 25, 2012

New This Month: Ru by Kim Thúy

As I write this it seems likely that you’ve never heard of Kim Thúy, a writer with a gentle voice and a deep and compelling story. But you will.

In Vietnamese, “Ru” means lullaby. In French it is a small stream. And for Ru (Random House Canada) both things are true. And more as well.

The French language edition of Ru, published in 2009, won Canada’s Governor’s General Award, one of the highest honors that can be accorded a book in a publication year. Author Thúy was born in Saigon and arrived in Canada in 1979 at the age of ten. Billed as a seamstress, interpreter, lawyer and restaurateur, at this point it seems likely that Thúy’s significant cultural contributions will come through her writing. Though Ru was initially published only in French, since winning the Governor General’s Award it has been sold to 15 countries. The English language edition, translated from the French by Sheila Fischman, is published this month in Canada. Other countries can anticipate being this enthralled over the next couple of years as local editions make their way into your hands. It just can’t be soon enough.
As a child, I thought that war and peace were opposites. Yet I lived in peace when Vietnam was in flames and I didn’t experience ware until Vietnam had laid down its weapons. I believe that war and peace are actually friends, who mock us.
Ru is not a conventional novel, but neither is it, strictly speaking, non-fiction or memoir. In fact, this is something else entirely: a skillful and beautiful poetic portrait that takes us from an enviable life in Saigon to the horrors of a Malaysian refugee camp and, finally, to conflicted safety in Canada. In her narrator’s delicate voice, Thúy describes the fall of Vietnam and one woman’s desperate journey from chaos to peace in a new place. Unforgettable and deeply moving. ◊

India Wilson is a writer and artist.

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