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Ru by Kim Thuy
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Ru (original 2009; edition 2012)

by Kim Thuy, Sheila Fischman (Translator)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
4214025,173 (3.82)206
Member:vancouverdeb
Title:Ru
Authors:Kim Thuy
Other authors:Sheila Fischman (Translator)
Info:Vintage Canada (2012), Paperback, 160 pages
Collections:Your library, Kindle books
Rating:****
Tags:Canadian Literature, Vietnam, boat people, Quebec, immigration, memoir

Work details

Ru by Kim Thúy (2009)

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English (28)  French (6)  Swedish (4)  Norwegian (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (40)
Showing 1-5 of 28 (next | show all)
Ru collects short fictional reminiscences by Kim Thuy, who was born in Saigon, survived the war, and emigrated to Quebec in 1979. The pieces are loosely connected, and this 140 or so page book is moving and lyrical. Protagonist An Tinh and her family originally are upper middle class in Saigon, with servants and chefs, but lose it all when the communists arrive. Sewing diamonds into clothes, they buy escape in a dark boat hold, with hundreds of others, to a muddy, ramshackle refugee camp in Malaysia. The living conditions will have you counting your blessings.

“My parents often remind my brothers and me that they won’t have any money for us to inherit, but I think they’ve already passed on to us the wealth of their memories, allowing us to grasp the beauty of a flowering wisteria, the delicacy of a word, the power of wonder. Even more, they’ve given us feet for walking to our dreams, to infinity. Which may be enough baggage to continue our journey on our own. Otherwise, we would pointlessly clutter our path with possessions to transport, to insure, to take care of.”

Tinh develops from mute fear in so-different Quebec, shadowing a schoolfriend, to someone who, upon returning to Vietnam, is told by a waiter that she cannot really be Vietnamese, essentially because she has grown too Western and sure of herself. The key is to endure - her mother passes onto her a Saigon proverb: "Life is a struggle in which sorrow leads to defeat.”

Some readers have seen structural problems with the loose connections, and questioned the lack of character depth. For me, neither of these detracted from the strong writing and affecting story, as we follow An Linh and her family and acquaintances from her childhood ruin to a new country and hope.

“I moved forward in the trace of their footsteps as in a waking dream where the scent of a newly blown poppy is no longer a perfume but a blossoming: where the deep red of a maple leaf in autumn is no longer a colour but a grace; where a country is no longer a place but a lullaby.” ( )
3 vote jnwelch | Jan 27, 2016 |
This is a short autobiographical, novel, told in vignettes and in a non-linear fashion. She covers her childhood in Saigon as part of a very well-off family, time in a Malaysian refugee camp, becoming an immigrant to Quebec and adjusting to “the American Dream.” Thuy also weaves in family stories and her own feelings about motherhood.

The vignettes are sometimes jarring to read, as things do jump around. I liked the way the book kept surprising me, and the way the story shifts slightly with each new revelation.

I enjoyed the thoughts about motherhood, and how becoming a mother herself gave the writer a new sympathy for her own mother. The language is lovely, here is a favorite part:

“My parents often remind my brothers and me that they won’t have any money for us to inherit, but I think they’ve already passed on to us the wealth of their memories, allowing us to grasp the beauty of a flowering wisteria, the delicacy of a word, the power of wonder. Even more, they’ve given us feet for walking to our dreams, to infinity. Which may be enough baggage to continue our journey on our own. Otherwise, we would pointlessly clutter our path with possessions to transport, to insure, to take care of.” ( )
  banjo123 | Jan 23, 2016 |
We often forget about the existence of all those women who carried Vietnam on their backs while their husbands and sons carried weapons on theirs. We forget them because under their cone-shaped hats they did not look up at the sky...Those women let their sadness grow in the chambers of their hearts. They were so weighed down by all of their grief that they couldn't pull themselves up, couldn't straighten their hunched backs, bowed under the weight of their sorrow. When the men emerged from the jungle and started to walk again along the earthen dikes around their rice fields, the women continued to bear the weight of Vietnam's audible history on their backs. Very often they passed away under that weight, in silence.

This autobiographical work of fiction consists of short vignettes based on the author's experience growing up in South Vietnam, in a prosperous family that opposed the communists in the North and was forced to flee after the fall of Saigon in 1975. She and her family spent time in a squalid refugee camp in Malaysia before they were subsequently accepted into Quebec. Although their Québécois neighbors were welcoming and supportive of the new immigrants, the trauma of their past experiences and the immense cultural differences in moving to Canada left them bereft and adrift, particularly the older adults.

In Ru, Thúy introduces the reader to numerous relatives of the narrator, each of whom has an interesting story to tell. Unfortunately, for this reader at least, the focus quickly shifted to a subsequent character at the time that I wanted to learn more about the first one. In reading this book I felt as if I was in a room with 25 related people, as I was accompanied by a rushed host who insisted that I meet everyone but spend no more than two minutes with each one, when I would have preferred to listen to two or three of them individually for an hour or two. As a result, Ru initially captured my attention, due to its evocative writing and compelling stories, but the frequent shifts from one character to the next made me lose my interest in them, and this book. ( )
1 vote kidzdoc | Jan 14, 2016 |
How do you leave a country with only what you can carry on your body and make a new life in a new country using a new language? Through episodic memories that move back and forth through time, the narrator tells of her childhood in South Vietnam, of life in a reeducation camp, of a boat journey to a new land, of living in a refugee camp in Malaysia, of arriving in Canada and adjusting to a new culture and a new language, of returning to work in Vietnam years later, and of motherhood. Anyone old enough to remember images of the Vietnam War or the boat people will have no trouble visualizing what Thuy so movingly describes. It's short enough to read in a single sitting, and I think this factor is a key to its impact. Thuy pulls readers into her world and keeps them there just long enough to feel the weight of Vietnamese history before releasing them back to their own worlds.

We often forget about the existence of all those women who carried Vietnam on their backs while their husbands and sons carried weapons on theirs...They were so weighed down by all their grief that they couldn't pull themselves up, couldn't straighten their hunched backs, bowed under the weight of their sorrow. When the men emerged from the jungle and started to walk again along the earthen dikes around their rice fields, the women continued to bear the weight of Vietnam's inaudible history on their backs. Very often they passed away under that weight, in silence. ( )
1 vote cbl_tn | Jan 10, 2016 |
Through a series of very short vignettes, some no longer than a single paragraph, Ru tells the story of Nguyên An Tinh, a Vietnamese girl from a well-off family whose life changes forever when South Vietrnam falls to the Communists. Jumping from Canada in winter, to a Malysian refugee camp, to an overcrowded and filthy boat in the South China Sea, to a privileged life in Saigon, before returning to Canada, this perhaps isn't the easiest book to follow but it is well worth persisting. But while I found the jumps in time and place didn't distract from my enjoyment of the book, I did find that the numbers of characters introduced in such a short book was a little overwhelming. Aunts and uncles and other relatives appear in great numbers but all became a little blurred after a time, meaning that it wasn't as easy to maintain interest in the other characters as it might have been. I would have liked more information about fewer people, particularly to have learnt more about Nguyên An Tinh's mother, a woman who before coming to Canada had never worked at anything other than organising her servants, but who in Canada willingly takes any job she can find to help her children get a start in life.

This is another book about the experience of adapting to a foreign culture, and the misconceptions that can arise with even well-meaning interactions between locals and refugees. But overall you get a huge sense of gratitude towards Canada that I assume reflects Kim Thuy's own experience:

The locals cosseted us one by one. The pupils in my grade school lined us to invite us home for lunch so that each of our noon hours was reserved by a family. And every time, we went back to school with nearly empty stomachs because we didn't know how to use a fork to eat rice that wasn't sticky. We didn't know how to tell them that this food was strange to us, that they really didn't have to go to every grocery store in search of the last box of Minute Rice. We could neither talk to nor understand them. but that wasn't the main thing. There was generosity and gratitude in every grain of the rice left on our plates.

I didn't love this book as much as perhaps some others have done, but it is well worth reading, particularly in the current climate of anti-refugee rhetoric that pervades much of the media. ( )
1 vote SandDune | Jan 9, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 28 (next | show all)
To risk all on the sum of its parts might seem dangerous, but the material’s innate truth justifies its author’s faith and through skilful assembly a whistle-clean story emerges. And yet, the story matters less than the raw acceptance of its moments, often brutal, occasionally full of beauty, the unexpected glimpses recounted without judgement or sentimentality of a world we know only through hearsay.
 
Thúy's impressionistic approach means the book can feel rudderless, but the stories are poetic and powerful.
added by lkernagh | editThe Guardian, James Smart (Jun 12, 2012)
 
Subtlety of voice and effect is Thúy’s strongest hand. Never is there a sense of false drama or manipulation of pain for easy emotional gain. In strictly human terms, the book’s pivotal balance between endurance and despair is delicately, beautifully realized.
 
Despite some moments of digression and occasional instances of thematic overreach, Ru is a poetic and highly individual exploration of what it can mean to straddle multiple cultures and identities simultaneously.
 

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Kim Thúyprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Fischman, SheilaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
In French, ru means a small stream and, figuratively, a flow, a discharge -- of tears, of blood, of money. In Vietnamese, ru means a lullaby, to lull.
Dedication
Information from the French Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
Aux gens du pays.
First words
Je suis venue au monde pendant l'offensive du Têt, aux premiers jours de la nouvelle année du Singe, lorsque les longues chaînes de pétards accrochées devant les maisons explosaient en polyphonie avec le son des mitraillettes.
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.
Quotations
"la vie est un combat où la tristesse entraine la défaite"
"j'avais oublié que l'amour vient de la tête et non pas du coeur"
We often forget about the existence of all those women who carried Vietnam on their backs while their husbands and sons carried weapons on theirs. We forget them because under their cone-shaped hats they did not look up at the sky...Those women let their sadness grow in the chambers of their hearts. They were so weighed down by all of their grief that they couldn't pull themselves up, couldn't straighten their hunched backs, bowed under the weight of their sorrow. When the men emerged from the jungle and started to walk again along the earthen dikes around their rice fields, the women continued to bear the weight of Vietnam's audible history on their backs. Very often they passed away under that weight, in silence.
But the young waiter reminded me that I couldn't have everything, that I no longer had the right to declare I was Vietnamese because I no longer had their fragility, their uncertainty, their fears. And he was right to remind me.
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Book description
Ru: In Vietnamese it means lullaby; in French it is a small stream, but also signifies a flow - of tears, blood, money.

Ru follows the flow of a life on the tides of unrest and on to more peaceful waters. In vignettes of exquisite clarity, sharp observation and sly wit, we are carried along on an unforgettable journey from a palatial residence in Saigon to a crowded and muddy Malaysian refugee camp, and onward to a new life in Quebec. There, the young girl feels the embrace of a new community.

As an adult, the waters become rough again: now a mother of two, she must learn to shape her love around the younger boy's autism. Moving seamlessly from past to present, from history to memory and back again, Ru is a novel that celebrates life in all its wonder: its moments of beauty and sensuality, brutality and sorrow, comfort and comedy.
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A book of rare beauty: Ru is a lullaby of Vietnam and a love letter to a new homeland. Ru: In Vietnamese it means lullaby; in French it is a small stream, but also signifies a flow - of tears, blood, and money. Kim Thuy's Ru is literature at its most crystalline: the flow of a life on the tides of unrest and on to more peaceful waters. In vignettes of exquisite clarity, sharp observation and sly wit, we are carried along on an unforgettable journey from a palatial residence in Saigon to a crowded and muddy Malaysian refugee camp, and onward to a new life in Quebec. There, the young girl feels the embrace of a new community, and revels in the chance to be part of the American Dream. As an adult, the waters become rough again: now a mother of two, she must learn to shape her love around the younger boy's autism. Moving seamlessly from past to present, from history to memory and back again, Ru is a book that celebrates life in all its wonder: its moments of beauty and sensuality, brutality and sorrow, comfort and comedy.… (more)

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