I think I already mentioned a few weeks ago that although I have never really paid any attention to the Giller Prize in the past, my plan this year is to read the five books that made the shortlist this year. All of them have a crazy waiting list at the library at the moment, but I was lucky to get two of them at the same time. Last night I finished reading Ru by Kim Thúy.
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.
This book is the autobiographical telling of the author’s life from her childhood in Vietnam, to time spent at a refugee camp in Malaysia, through to present day life in Quebec. Although the narrator in the book introduces herself by another name, the author has stated in interviews that the book mirrors her personal experiences. The narrative is not chronological, but rather jumps back and forth between memories along her timeline. Many parts are undeniably tragic and difficult to read, others are full of a promise of hope and rebirth, but overall I had the impression of a person who deep down has been scarred in a way few of us can ever understand.
The book is beautifully written and because it is composed of short snippets in time, memories that I assume stick out to the author even today, my attention never wavered, and instead I found I was keenly aware of each word. Just making sure that I didn’t miss anything. The only criticism I have was that because there is not a lot of context to each short “blurb” there were a few sections which I did not understand. Two parts in particular had me rereading the same passage a few times, searching for the explanation, and eventually moving on without resolving my confusion. However, since the book was translated from French, it is possible that something was lost in translation and it was not the author’s original words that were puzzling.
A beautiful read that illustrates just how much can be said with so little.
Two of my favorite passages:
As a child, I thought that war and peace were opposites. Yet I lived in piece when Vietnam was in flames and didn’t experience war until Vietnam laid down its weapons. I believe that war and peace are actually friends, who mock us. The treat us like enemies when it suits them, with no concern for the definition or the role we give them. Perhaps, then, we shouldn’t take too much stock in the appearance of one of the other to decide our views.
That memory definitely explains why I never lave a place with more than one suitcase. I take only books. Nothing else can become truly mine. I sleep just as well in a hotel room, a guest room or a stranger’s bed as in my own. In fact, I’m always glad to move; it gives me a chance to lighten my belongings, to leave objects behind so that my memory can become truly selective, can remember only images that stay luminous behind my closed eyelids. I prefer to remember the flutters in my stomach, my light-headedness, my upheavals, my hesitations, my lapses…I prefer them because I can shape them according to the colour of the time, whereas an object remains inflexible, frozen, unwieldy.