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The Boat by Nam Le
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The Boat (2008)

by Nam Le

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Showing 1-5 of 28 (next | show all)
It’s well-known in the writing and publishing industry that the reading public is far more interested in buying novels than short story collections. When I worked in a bookstore in 2011, Nam Le’s The Boat was the only story anthology – not the only Australian story anthology, the only story anthology full stop – that I recall ever selling any copies of whatsoever. And it was three years old at the time! It’s a sad piece of anecdotal evidence for the popularity of the short story, but a very nice one for Nam Le.

The Boat won a raft of awards and is plastered with praise across front and back covers, coming from sources as lofty as Junot Diaz, Peter Carey, The New York Times, The Guardian and The Washington Post. And Le deserves it – his writing is instantly, irrefutably excellent, especially for somebody so young (he was 29 when The Boat was published, and most of the stories are from earlier than that.) Le has also received praise for the wide-ranging scope of his fiction, featuring stories ranging from a Colombian assassin to a New York art dealer to an American woman in Tehran. Those stories are bookended in The Boat by two which are clearly drawn from real life; “Love and Honour and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice,” in which a young Vietnamese-Australian writer hosts his father while at a writing workshop in Iowa, and “The Boat,” in which a boatload of Vietnamese refugees flee the country after the fall of Saigon, just as Le’s own parents did in the late 1970s, with Le himself a one-year-old baby.

I was prepared to love Le for the fact that he didn’t simply write what he knows, but it’s ironic that “Love and Honour and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice,” clearly the book’s most autobiographical story, is also its best. From there it leaps straight into “Cartagena,” a story about a child assassin in Colombia, and while it feels authentic enough – laced with Latin slang and capturing what I imagine to be the filth and corruption and hopelessness of a Colombian metropolis – it felt somehow obvious; like writing a Mongolian story about a horse nomad or an Australian story about a jackaroo. Crime and corruption is all foreigners know about what is probably a large and complex nation, and crime and corruption is what Le gives us. Stereotype is too strong a word, because Le brings the same skill to “Cartagena” as he does to all his other stories; I believed in the characters, and the situation, and their reactions to it, but I could never shake the feeling that while I, as an Australian, found it to be believable, a Colombian would instantly recognise it as the work of an outsider.

“Cartagena” is thankfully the worst example of that, because for the rest of the book Le is on firmer ground; “Meeting Elise” is set in New York; “Halfhead Bay” is a Wintonesque high school story in an Australian fishing town (which presents its own problems, but never mind); “Hiroshima” is fairly short and told from a child’s perspective in any case; and “Tehran Calling” is set in Iran but features an American protagonist.

These are all good stories; perhaps not as great as the first one, but all worth reading. And in any case, I’d rather read an author who attempts to write about other places and cultures than someone like, well, Tim Winton, who is undoubtedly a brilliant author but ends up writing variations on a theme. Nam Le is well on the way to carving out a future for himself in the Australian literary pantheon alongside greats such as Winton and Carey and Keneally. It pleases me as a reader – partly because it can grow so tiresome, as a 20-something, to spend so long working your way through the 20th century canon – to identify a writer destined for great things, whom I can read from the very beginning of his career and watch develop. I can only imagine what Nam Le’s bibliography will look like when he and I are both in our 60s.

(Although having said that, The Boat was published five and a half years ago and he’s done nothing since then and there are no hints of anything in the works, so who knows?) ( )
  edgeworth | Feb 21, 2014 |
I have mixed feelings about this collection of short stories. Some of them I liked very much, while others not particularly. Nam Le is an original writer, and he is ambitious in his attempt to write from all different genders, ages and cultural backgrounds. But he reaches a little too far for drama at times, and ends up with something approaching melodrama. Many of his stories are about proving oneself, proving one is tough rather than vulnerable, and maybe this is why they seem a bit hollow at times. I think he will eventually write his way to a truer and more confident vision of the world. ( )
  astrologerjenny | Apr 24, 2013 |
I'm not usually a fan of short stories as I find they're often not long enough to really get a feel for the characters, but Nam Le's stories are a standout exception. I found it amazing that one author could draw such disparate authentic portraits. How does he do it?
I read the final story 'The Boat' against the backdrop of the polarised and xenophobic debate on asylum seekers in Australia and I wished more people would read this story. ( )
  ilovejfranzen | Aug 15, 2012 |
A collection of short stories, vividly told and compelling, that add up to make something that’s more than the sum of its parts – a commentary on the human condition, the many nuances of our relationships with one another, and the global, multi-cultural world in which we live.

The first story - Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice - was a delightfully rich and understated picture of a family who fled to Australia from Vietnam as boat-people; about the sacrifices parents make for their children and the pain parents and children cause each other; and about the stories we tell, why we tell them, and how they are received.

This was followed by stories about a young South American assassin; a father hoping to meet his famous daughter, a cello prodigy, after 17 years; a young Australian lad with an ill mother; a Japanese girl in wartime Hiroshima; an American lawyer visiting a friend in Tehran; and a Vietnamese girl on a boat fleeing Vietnam.

I really enjoyed the vivid and distinct narrative voices, and the rich pictures and lingering sadness evoked by each of these stories. ( )
  seekingflight | Mar 26, 2011 |
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Epigraph
Importunate along the dark

Horizon of immediacies

The flares of desperation rise.

~ W.H. Auden
How strange that when the summons

came I always felt good.

~ Frank Conroy
Dedication
To --
Ta Thi Xuan Le, my mother
Le Huu Phuc, my father
and Truong and Victor, my brothers
First words
My father arrived on a rainy morning.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 030726808X, Hardcover)

A stunningly inventive, deeply moving fiction debut: stories that take us from the slums of Colombia to the streets of Tehran; from New York City to Iowa City; from a tiny fishing village in Australia to a foundering vessel in the South China Sea, in a masterly display of literary virtuosity and feeling.

In the magnificent opening story, “Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice,” a young writer is urged by his friends to mine his father’s experiences in Vietnam—and what seems at first a satire of turning one’s life into literary commerce becomes a transcendent exploration of homeland, and the ties between father and son. “Cartagena” provides a visceral glimpse of life in Colombia as it enters the mind of a fourteen-year-old hit man facing the ultimate test. In “Meeting Elise,” an aging New York painter mourns his body’s decline as he prepares to meet his daughter on the eve of her Carnegie Hall debut. And with graceful symmetry, the final, title story returns to Vietnam, to a fishing trawler crowded with refugees, where a young woman’s bond with a mother and her small son forces both women to a shattering decision.

Brilliant, daring, and demonstrating a jaw-dropping versatility of voice and point of view, The Boat is an extraordinary work of fiction that takes us to the heart of what it means to be human, and announces a writer of astonishing gifts.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:27:21 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Stories that take us from the slums of Colombia to the streets of Tehran; from New York City to Iowa; from a tiny fishing village in Australia to a foundering vessel in the South China Sea-- while taking us to the heart of what is means to be human.

» see all 4 descriptions

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Two editions of this book were published by Audible.com.

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Canongate Books

Two editions of this book were published by Canongate Books.

Editions: 1847671608, 1847671616

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