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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Kim Thúy

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To purchase Ru

Title: Ru
Author: Kim Thúy
Genre: Novel
Written: 2009 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 141 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Ru - US
Ru - UK
Ru - Canada
Ru - Canada (French)
Ru - India
Ru - France
Der Klang der Fremde - Deutschland
Riva - Italia
Ru - España
  • French title: Ru
  • Translated by Sheila Fischman

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Our Assessment:

B+ : beautifully written impressions of the Vietnamese exile/immigrant experience

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 19/11/2010 Anja Hirsch
The Globe and Mail . 10/2/2012 Jim Bartley
The Guardian . 12/6/2012 James Smart
The Independent . 24/7/2012 Julie Wheelwright
NZZ . 4/1/2011 Andreas Breitenstein

  Review Consensus:

  All very impressed

  From the Reviews:
  • "Kim Thúy hat die Gabe, Dinge klar zu benennen und sie neben Sätze zu stellen, die wie Schattenbilder neben dem Privaten das Allgemeine aufscheinen lassen. (...) Kim Thúy schreibt mit allen Sinnen eine dichte, bildstarke Prosa." - Anja Hirsch, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "I confess I was wary of finding something gauzily poetical: a romance-of-war novel. I was wrong. Our narrator, An Tinh, comes in a spare, almost uninflected voice, neither stark nor embellished, unspooling a retrospective story of a childhood turned nightmare and the beginnings of a new life in Canada. (...) In just 140 pages, the novel touches on an impressive range of culture notes and historical incident, woven through the familys decades-long arc of prosperity, suffering and piecemeal recovery. (...) The books lapses emerge as ones of structure and focus." - Jim Bartley, The Globe and Mail

  • "The accounts of escape and arrival are exciting, but Ru is more about observation and atmosphere (.....) Thúy's impressionistic approach means the book can feel rudderless, but the stories are poetic and powerful." - James Smart, The Guardian

  • "Thuy's sparse style lends itself to such disturbing disclosures. Translated from French, the novel is written as a series of prose poems that alternate with longer passages. Neither is there a classical narrative arc; there is the tracking of parallel lives that intertwine: Canada in the present, Vietnam in the past." - Julie Wheelwright, The Independent

  • "Der Roman besticht durch seine selbstbewusste und eigenwillige Form sowie durch seine leichthändige Annäherung an Dinge, die von grosser Tragik sind. (...) Entstanden ist ein Buch, das jenseits der Chronologie zwischen Zeiten und Orten, Szenen und Figuren hin und her springt, wobei die Brüche das Widerstreben des Innewerdens manifest machen. Traumschwer und bitter-schön sind die Erinnerungsbilder, die von einer lakonisch-klugen Gedanklichkeit umspielt werden." - Andreas Breitenstein, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Ru is billed as a novel, but consists of short pieces -- only a few are more than a page in length -- describing, in what appears to be no particular order, scenes and impressions from the life of the narrator, Nguyễn An Tịnh -- which, in turn, bear a close resemblance to author Kim Thúy's own experiences, from her birth during the Tet Offensive in 1968 to her fleeing Viet Nam with her family a decade later, and then growing up in Canada.
       The short pieces are beautifully composed, and resonant despite their concision; despite the almost haphazard-seeming presentation, in which the narrator jumps back and forth in time, from her own childhood to when she is a mother, the aggregate makes for a surprisingly cohesive larger whole.
       Thúy effectively conveys experience from a child's point of view, incomprehending about certain aspects of what is happening around her both in Viet Nam and then in the strange new world that is Canada. Often, there is a sense of distance and remove -- from deaths as they flee on the open seas and arrive in Malaysia to the barriers of communication and understanding (on a variety of levels) in Canada. In childhood Nguyễn An Tịnh sees herself simply as the shadow of her closest 'friend' in Canada, for example -- who thirty years later doesn't recognize her voice on the phone "because she had known me as deaf and mute. We had never spoken." Her own autistic son is just another manifestation of remove.
       There are many vivid scenes, perhaps making even more of an impression in Thúy's compressed presentation. The description of a wall dividing a room erected by a mother, who leaves one son with the fan in his half, the other with the switch to turn it on and off in the other half, is hardly an unfamiliar idea, but even something like this is effectively pulled off. There are also more complex, nuanced episodes, such as when she relates that:

The first time I carried a briefcase, the first time I went to a restaurant school for young adults in Hanoi, wearing heels and a straight skirt, the waiter for my table didn't understand why I was speaking Vietnamese with him. At first I thought he couldn't understand my southern accent. At the end of the meal, though, he explained ingenuously that I was too fat to be Vietnamese.
     I translated that remark to my employers, who laugh about it to this day. I understood later that he was talking not about my forty-five kilos but about the American dream that had made mine more substantial, heavier, weightier.
       Well- and closely-observed, the far-ranging pieces convey an enormous amount. Gaps remain, but that is also appropriate: Thúy's portrait is impressionistic -- almost abstract-pointillist. Neat chronology wouldn't be adequate for her purposes, nor does she want to flesh out the story -- and she always wants to maintain that remove, hence also the narrator identifying herself by name ('Nguyễn An Tịnh') almost immediately, even as the name doesn't figure anywhere afterwards (i.e. it's done solely to immediately separate the I of the novel from the author in the reader's mind).
       A note at the beginning of the novel explains that ru has two different meanings in Thúy's two languages: in French it: "means a small stream and, figuratively, a flow, a discharge -- of tears, of blood, of money", while in Vietnamese it is: "a lullaby, to lull". Ru does not feel like a normal full-fledged novel, but certainly lives up to its title, a combination of these two meanings.
       Note, however, that Ru seems so deeply rooted in the personal that it remains difficult to see it as fiction, and understand why it is packaged as such.

- M.A.Orthofer, 16 October 2012

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Ru: Reviews: Other books by Kim Thúy under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Canadian author Kim Thúy was born in Viet Nam in 1968.

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© 2012-2022 the complete review

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