Tag Archives: Canadian literature

Books: Ru by Kim Thúy

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.

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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.

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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.

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Lullabies for Little Criminals – Heather O’Neill – Book Review

ImageIt’s like poetry he said. And then he would read sentences and pause and look at me and say, isn’t that beautiful?  Isn’t that amazing? And then he would keep reading. Typically Dave prefers non-fiction. But he loved this book. My sister loved this book. So when the holidays came and I knew I would finally have some time to read I picked up Lullaby for Little Criminals and read it voraciously.  And I loved it too. Although the book has been out for a few years now it was the first novel by Canadian writer Heather O’Neill.

It’s an incredibly beautiful thing for a writer to create a character so compelling that you completely surrender to seeing the world from the character’s point of view and at the same time you remain outside of it just enough to hold your heart and say no, no don’t go there because I know where that will take you.  And you know it because you’re an adult and you see the dangers that can befall the vulnerable. And in this case the person who is vulnerable is Baby,  a young girl of 12 who lives with her heroin addicted father on the bad side of town in Montreal. And life ain’t easy for Baby. She and Jules move from one seedy apartment to another, she does time in foster care, and juvenile detention, she is practically fatherless and she is utterly motherless.

And because she is a child she doesn’t realize what she doesn’t have. She knows she has Jules. And you hold your heart becuae sometimes she has friends. But not enough. And sometimes she has people in her corner but not enough and not the right ones. It’s only when she begins to traverse the uneasy road between adulthood and childhood that there is a growing awareness of what has been lost to her in her life.  And as her beauty grows and her father disappears into his addiction the threat to her childhood and her well-being increases. And yet inside she is a child. A child who wants simple things. Love and a safe place both of which seem elusive.

There’s a transitional moment in the book when she experiences a kiss and she acknowledges that there would be real consequences to that kiss and of course there are. But it’s that moment where you see a child slowly reckoning with the very adult consequences of something they’ve done and that’s been done to them. A kiss that should have been sweet and beautiful.  And that moment in the book is beautiful and hard all at the same time because you witness her fragility and all the consequences that come with it. And it makes you want to cry.

And the other moment is when she is locked out of her house and it’s late and cold and she has nowhere to go so she goes to her friend’s house. And the friend’s parents are assholes and turn the young girl away in the middle of the night. And it’s the final failure of adults in her world that sends her catapulting towards a very different life. And in the end ,just as the jacket copy says, she really has to figure it out herself.  As we all do I suppose. But she is still a child.

So wow. A heartbreaking book, a funny book, a book with a beautiful, real, raw voice of a kid who is just a kid and who doesn’t know any better and who doesn’t have a single person around her to help break her fall. So I would say go out and read it. It’s a beautiful heartbreaker.

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