Ru by Kim Thúy, Sheila Fischman
Published by Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: November 27th 2012
Genres: Debut, Fiction, Cultural, Literary, Book Clubs
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The Communist takeover of Saigon forces Nguyễn An Tinh and her family to leave behind their luxurious life and escape to a refugee camp in Malaysia. From there the family immigrates to Canada and settles in Quebec. Kim Thúy’s novel is called Ru, meaning ‘lullaby’ in Vietnamese, which aptly describes the book’s style of storytelling and reminiscence. It is a slim volume with some pages containing only a single paragraph and yet, Thúy conveys the deepest of human emotions and life events with sentences as supple and free-flowing as a stream.
Written in the first person, Ru is delicately executed and, much like a diary, moves between people and places, past and present, as if each had just occurred to the narrator. It becomes clear that she is now a wife and mother but the appearance of family members from the past mix effortlessly with the present. Characters are filled in with light strokes and an occasional reference yet feel fully alive. Of her mother Tinh says,
I also understood later that my mother certainly had dreams for me, but above all she’d given me tools so that I could put down roots, so that I could dream.
The flow of Ru echoes the fluidity with which Tinh views her life. Despite having lived in Canada since she was a young girl she still feels the pull of Vietnam and its place in her heart. She lives in Canada but is Vietnamese. When she sees a young man at a gas station with the same type of inoculation scar as hers she knows him to be Vietnamese as well and
In one second we had seen our own ambivalence, our hybrid state: half this, half that, nothing at all and everything at once.
Ru is Thúy’s debut novel and is largely autobiographical, making its lyricism and truth that much more powerful. The change from living with wealth to being a refugee and then an immigrant is massive, especially as a young child, when even the most familiar surroundings hold mystery. Tinh witnesses much a child should not but relates the difficult and painful parts of life as quietly as the joys. Thuy’s stripped down prose is powerfully expressive and this reader looks forward to what she does next.