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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Kim Thúy

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To purchase Mãn

Title: Mãn
Author: Kim Thúy
Genre: Novel
Written: 2013 (Eng. 2014)
Length: 139 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Mãn - US
Mãn - UK
Mãn - Canada
Mãn - Canada (French)
Mãn - France
Der Geschmack der Sehnsucht - Deutschland
Nidi di rondine - Italia
  • French title: Mãn
  • Translated by Sheila Fischman

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Our Assessment:

B : appealing but almost too delicately structured

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Globe and Mail . 26/9/2014 Anna Fitzpatrick
National Post . 12/9/2014 Philip Marchand

  From the Reviews:
  • "(A) story of realism told like a fable. (...) Thuys work has the sparseness of an old story by the Brothers Grimm, in which entire wars and lives can be summed in a couple of lines and yet a brief moment can be made to linger. (...) Its a text with no superfluous words, where every line is given an equal weight, demanding as much, if not more, attention than the book as a whole." - Anna Fitzpatrick, The Globe and Mail

  • "In depicting this love affair, the author resorts to the exaggerated sensuality that is found nowhere in life but in the over-wrought prose of Canadian lyrical novelists." - Philip Marchand, National Post

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:

       The title character tells her story in Mãn, taking her from Viet Nam to Canada, to success as a chef running a restaurant, and to falling passionately in love for the first time, with a married man living far away. The novel is presented in short, untitled chapters -- but for each there is a word in the margin, a Vietnamese term or concept and its English approximation that figures in the accompanying passage(s). Mãn has moved from one culture to another, but her Vietnamese background remains a foundation and reference point -- most obviously in the food she cooks, but also in most aspects of her life.
       While the title character is very much at the center of Mãn, the novel does not just describe her life, but rather also the roles others play in it, from the Maman that sends her off to Canada, helping arrange the marriage to the expat from Montreal who takes her abroad, a man who:

was one of those who had lived too long in Vietnam to become Canadian. And conversely, who have lived too long in Canada to be Vietnamese again.
       They have a solid marriage, they have children, but their relationship lacks almost any sort of passion -- hence also Mãn's surprise when she finds that, relatively late in life, with Frenchman Luc. Another important figure in Mãn's life is the supportive Julie, "a merchant of happiness" who also helps guide Mãn's cooking success. Others from Vietnam -- including Maman, who is eventually also brought to Canada -- also figure in her life, and are a constant reminder of the different world from which she came from, and events from her and their pasts.
       Going to Canada, Mãn realizes:
I now had a chance to start again, to go away with no baggage, to reinvent myself. But that was impossible.
       Food is the strongest bridge between the cultures, the part of herself easiest to hold onto and adapt to her new surroundings, and the one she's most eager to foster -- a basic and controllable pleasure. There are a good deal of food-mentions and cooking descriptions here, and Thúy handles these nicely; food here is convincingly meaningful.
       Mãn glides over the years and many events, and, for example, the details of Mãn's marriage are barely mentioned. Only when a figure who really shakes her to the core, Frenchman Luc, appears in her life does she reconsider some of her decisions and how she has lived -- the question being how far she dares give in to her passion. It's convincing enough, but throws the book as a whole a bit out of balance.
       Many of the vignettes and recollections in Mãn are beautifully evoked and related, and for the most part it flows very nicely and easily along -- yet perhaps just a bit too much on the surface, too wary of testing the deeper currents, ones which are hinted at or briefly addressed, but then largely allowed to drift by. And too much of Mãn herself remains just slightly too elusive, too.

- M.A.Orthofer, 7 December 2014

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Mãn: 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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© 2014-2022 the complete review

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