A NovelBook - 2012
Winner of the Governor General's Literary Award Winner of the Grand Prix RTL-Lire Shortlisted for the Prix des cinq continents de la Francophonie
Longlisted for Canada Reads 2015
At ten years old, Kim Th#65533;y fled Vietnam on a boat with her family, leaving behind a grand house and the many less tangible riches of their home country: the ponds of lotus blossoms, the songs of soup-vendors. The family arrived in Quebec, where they found clothes at the flea market, and mattresses with actual fleas. Kim learned French and English, and as she grew older, seized what opportunities an immigrant could; she put herself through school picking vegetables and sewing clothes, worked as a lawyer and interpreter, and later as a restaurateur. She was married and a mother when the urge to write struck her, and she found herself scribbling words at every opportunity - pulling out her notebook at stoplights and missing the change to green. The story emerging was one of a Vietnamese #65533;migr#65533; on a boat to an unknown future: her own story fictionalized and crafted into a stunning novel.
The novel's title, Ru , has meaning in both Kim's native and adoptive languages: in Vietnamese, ru is a lullaby; in French, a stream. And it provides the perfect name for this slim yet potent novel. With prose that soothes and sings, Ru weaves through time, flows and transports: a river of sensuous memories gathering power. It's a classic immigrant story told in a breathtaking new way.
From the critics
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During our first winters, we didn’t know that every garment had its season, that we mustn’t simply wear all the clothes we owned. When we were cold, without discriminating, without knowing the different categories, we would put one garment over another, layer by layer, like the homeless.
Like Canada, Vietnam had its own two solitudes. The language of North Vietnam had developed in accordance with its political, social and economic situation at the time, with words to describe how to shoot down an airplane with a machine gun set up on a roof, how to use monosodium glutamate to make blood clot more quickly, how to spot the shelters when the sirens go off. Meanwhile, the language of the South had created words to express the sensation of Coca-Cola bubbles on the tongue, terms for naming spies, rebels, Communist sympathizers on the streets of the South, names to designate the children born from wild nights with GIs.
When Marie-France, my teacher in Granby, asked me to describe my breakfast, I told her: soup, vermicelli, pork. She asked me again, more than once, miming waking up, rubbing her eyes and stretching. But my reply was the same, with a slight variation: rice instead of vermicelli. The other Vietnamese children gave similar descriptions. She called home then to check the accuracy of our answers with our parents. As time went on, we no longer started our day with soup and rice. To this day, I haven’t found a substitute.
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