Order at a discount (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
Ru: A Novel, By Kim Thuy. Clerkenwell Press, £8.99
Tuesday 24 July 2012
Born during the Tet Offensive, Kim Thuy left Saigon with her family, escaping by boat to a Malaysian refugee camp and then to Quebec. Her narrator, Nguyen An Tinh, describes the trade-offs between the peace and security of Canada and the erasure of identity. On a trip back she realises that she has changed, "because I no longer had their fragility, their uncertainty, their fears". Despite her new life, she carries a past freighted with guilt.
There is much that surprises and horrifies here. Nguyen's aunts and uncles played tennis at private clubs, read French novels and were involved in politics. Her mother, who later scrubs toilets and waits tables in Canada, was raised to be a princess who dressed in fine Parisian lace. When the Communists arrived and the banking system crumbled, they became experts at buying, selling and hiding gold and diamonds.
Nguyen's family is grateful to the Canadians for their generosity. But even that kindness can provoke the terror lingering beneath the surface. On a school trip to a nature reserve, a botanist encourages the kids to examine the insects. Nguyen "knows the sound of flies by heart", because at the refugee camp their hum was the only distraction from the horror of sitting above a vast pit of excrement where an old woman once drowned. Her cousins join the family in Canada where, they casually describe "with mocking laughter, how they had masturbated men in exchange for a bowl of soup".
Thuy's sparse style lends itself to such disturbing disclosures. Translated from French, the novel is written as a series of prose poems that alternate with longer passages. Neither is there a classical narrative arc; there is the tracking of parallel lives that intertwine: Canada in the present, Vietnam in the past. Thuy often ends a section with a phrase she picks up in the next, linking ideas and images through repetition that in a less graceful writer would grate. Instead, the effect is moving, as she suggests that the survivor learns the ability to endure sorrow while holding a steady gaze, "no matter the mood of the moment".
GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival
TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride
FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Amber Peat: Body found in search for missing 13-year-old who ran away after argument with her parents
- 2 California man brutally beat 82-year-old Sikh grandfather he mistook for 'one of those people'
- 3 Gay teenager 'forced to have sex with his own mother' to 'cure' his homosexuality, campaigners in India say
- 4 Charles Kennedy 'had better judgement drunk than many sober politicians' says Ian Hislop
- 5 Fifa corruption: Qatar says investigations are racist, anti-Arab and show 'ugly face' of countries who lost 2022 World Cup bid
Game of Thrones season 5 episode 9, The Dance of Dragons: Jon Snow returns to The Wall after epic Battle of Hardhome
Touch-screen Teletubbies say hello: Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Po are back, now with smart technology
Black Angel: Long lost Star Wars precursor to be made into crowdfunded feature film
Game of Thrones, season 5: heavy metal rockers Mastodon cameo as Wildlings in Hardhome
Environmental Photographer of the Year 2015 award: Shortlisted images go on show
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination
Migrants in Kos: Photos show real tragedy after Brits abroad complain of 'awkward' holidays
British tourists complain that impoverished boat migrants are making holidays 'awkward' in Kos
Michael Gove determined to scrap the Human Rights Act – even if Scotland retains it
Threat to scrap Human Rights Act could see UK follow Nazi example, warns UN official
Church of England 'one generation away from extinction' after dramatic loss of followers