As part of my summer reading spree I read Kim Thuy’s memoir-esque novel Ru. In 1979 Kim escaped Vietnam with her family in a boat, landed in a refugee camp in Malaysia and eventually she and her family made their way to Quebec where she still lives today.
One of the things Kim does so well in this slight but beautifully written volume is intertwine her family’s history and journey to the culture and traditions of Vietnam.
Each chapter is short and the language is poetic. It’s almost as though the book is a collection of linked poems that tell the story of the immensely difficult journey her family took leaving Saigon to try and forge a better life in a new ,strange and cold country.
Her descriptions of life in Vietnam are teeming with that “other life”. The life of Lotus blossoms, servants, aunties, chefs, tennis courts, jewels and parties. But with a country recovering from civil war and with the takeover of Saigon by the north, the good life they had known was rapidly coming to an end. Soldiers moved into their home, their possessions were taken, their lives threatened.
I love the descriptions of the large, sprawling families who care for each other through good and also extraordinarily difficult times. The tale of her families opulent life is contrasted with the stories of war, a child shot to death, a mother losing her son, old and young women, through whatever means doing what they must to put food on the table, more often than not doing soul destroying and backbreaking work.
It’s easy to forget the lives left behind. And when the family comes to Montreal they live in a world difficult to understand and navigate, its newness underscoring everything they had to let go to start anew. It’s a good reminder of what is left behind and what it takes to integrate and adapt and how that informs who you become.
I liked the book a lot and it’s poetic style offered incredible moments of truth, pain and beauty but it’s ephemeral nature also made it more difficult to attach to the narrator or the characters in the book.