10 October 2019

Ru by Kim Thuy

Dear friend of the blog ASHLEY RYAN bought me this book. How incredibly sweet of her. I didn't know anything about Kim Thuy and I honestly had never heard of Ru, even though it won the Canada Reads competition in 2015. Ru is only 152 pages and I flew through it. I'm glad Ashley got me it so I could give it a try!

Thuy is a Vietnamese-born, Canadian author and Ru is mostly about the immigration process for her central character as she flees Vietnam during the 1970's, survives a refugee camp in Malaysia, and then eventually makes it to Quebec. As I mentioned above, the book is very short and so Thuy spends an equal amount of time in each of these three places.

I was most taken with Thuy's writing on Vietnam. I have read a few books now about individuals who survived violent times in their home-country (I especially enjoyed First They Killed My Father) and I found myself researching the Tet Offensive because of the similarities to the Khmer Rouge Killing Fields I read about later last year.

Later on, my father corrupted them by having them listen to music on the sly. I sat underneath the piano, in the shadows, watching tears roll down their cheeks, where the horrors of History, without hesitation, had carved grooves. After that, we no longer knew if they were enemies or victims, if we loved or hated them, if we feared or pitied them. And they no longer knew if they had freed us from the Americans or, on the contrary, if we had freed them from the jungle of Vietnam."

Kim Thuy
Because Ru is so short we only get to know the central character very briefly, but she has a strong voice and takes readers through her journey quickly but effectively. I loved that Thuy had her character talk more broadly about other people's experience as refugees. In one horrible description she talks about an older lady who drowned in a septic tank in Malaysia, in another she talks about the ways people tried to remain hopeful in the face of so many atrocities.

One of my favourite passages was when she described the older women who were working in the fields:

We often forget about the existence of all those women who carried Vietnam on their backs while their husbands and sons carried weapons on theirs. We forget them because under their cone-shaped hats they did not look up at the sky. They waited only for the sun to set on them so they could faint instead of falling asleep." 

She went on to describe how they would work themselves to exhaustion so that they would faint rather than drift asleep. Thuy says these women were afraid of sleep as so much of it would be filled with nightmares of their children or husbands who were forced to endure other hardships.

We were well acquainted with the dreams of our nearest and dearest: those with whom we were packed in tightly for nights at a time. Back then, we all had the same dreams. For a long time, we were obliged to have the same one, the American dream." 

While I enjoyed this book I find it difficult to review because it was so short. Thuy's writing is very beautiful and it almost reads like a series of long poems rather than regular fiction. If you are looking for a quick read from a Canadian author I would certainly recommend you pick this one up. I finished it in three days.

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