Friday 22 May 2015

Ru by Kim Thuy

I love it when I discover a new author that simply bowls me over with the beautiful simplicity of her story. Reading Thuy's (pronounced twee) autobiographical novel, Ru has been a magical, moving experience.
"I came into the world during the Tet Offensive, in the early days of the Year of the Monkey, when the long chain of firecrackers draped in front of houses exploded polyphonically along with the sound of machine guns."
Like Thuy, and her protagonist, An Tinh, I was born in the Year of the Monkey, 1968, but our two stories could not be further apart. Yet last night we shared a chat and a laugh and compared comfort foods (Thuy - congee; me - vegemite on toast).

Thuy spent the first ten years of her life in Saigon; most of that time was taken up with post war reconstruction and re-education programs. Her family then fled Vietnam via boat and eventually ended up in a Malaysian refugee camp. Some time later they emigrated to Quebec, Canada.

There is nothing ordinary or usual about this story and there is nothing usual or ordinary about Thuy's writing - it's a mixture of the poetic, the graphic and the sublime.
Thuy reminds us all to see and feel the love in all the different and subtle ways that people show it to us.

I had the pleasure of meeting Thuy twice during the week at the Writer's Festival in Sydney. She confirmed that her books are such a mix of fact and fiction that it's almost impossible to separate the two out.

Her books begin as "fat documents that get simmered down" into word precise vignettes. I loved the image she painted of walking "around the words to see them from every angle" before selecting them or deleting them from each draft. For me, the only flaw with this style of writing is that the vignettes only just hung together and they didn't quite come to a satisfactory end. But Ru was all about the journey, not the destination. It's the writing, the emotions and the memories that stay with you for days afterwards.

I can't wait to get into Thuy's latest novel, Man, also written in French and translated by Sheila Fischman.

Ru has been won several awards since its 2009 publication -

WINNER 2015 - Canada Reads
WINNER 2011 – Grand prix littéraire Archambault
WINNER 2011 – Mondello Prize for Multiculturalism
WINNER 2010 – Prix du Grand Public Salon du livre––Essai/Livre pratique
WINNER 2010 – Governor General’s Award for Fiction (French-language)
WINNER 2010 – Grand Prix RTL-Lire at the Salon du livre de Paris
Longlisted 2013 – Man Asian Literary Prize
Longlisted 2014 – International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award
Shortlist 2012 - Scotiabank Giller Prize
Shortlist 2012 – Governor General’s Literary Award for Translation

If you loved Like Water For Chocolate and Perfume, I think you will also love Ru.


  1. I haven't read Ru, but I read Man which was very quiet and beautiful, and had similar themes about cultural identity and belonging.

    1. Man is on my immediate to-read list :-)

  2. Anonymous30/5/15

    I read RU in October 2013. It is a perfect book to read in French it you want to 'pick up your high school' French language skills!
    The book is written in the present tense, 160 it will be a great pleasure to read. RU remains on my top-10 list.
    Thuy’s strong point is her ability to create “word pictures”. For example on pp 36 she describes er sandal falling into murky, muddy water. It did not sink. It floated like a rudderless boat. It is just a beautiful book!

    1. I had never heard of this book until two months ago, yet there is so much love for her out there in blogger land.
      I'm so glad I finally discovered it though - it's a keeper and a reread for sure.


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