by Kim Thúy, Sheila Fischman (Translation)
“In French, ru means a small stream and, figuratively, a flow, a discharge—of tears, of blood, of money. In Vietnamese, ru means a lullaby, to lull.”
It was over forty years ago, but I still have vivid memories of seeing the Vietnamese ‘boat people’ on the evening news, dazed faces staring into the camera, packed tightly into small crafts, fleeing their country in terror following the war. They risked much to escape torture, repression, disease, starvation and the notorious re-education camps where they were forced into hard labour. Many didn’t survive the perilous journey.
Kim Thúy, the author of Ru – a multi-award winning, fictional memoir – was born in Saigon in 1968. She fled the Communist regime via boat with her parents and two brothers, arriving in Canada (via Malaysia) in 1979. For a time she worked as a seamstress and cashier, before opening a Vietnamese restaurant in Montréal, and at the same time obtaining degrees in linguistics and translation, followed by law. Only when her restaurant closed did she fulfil her dream of becoming an author.
Ru is a brilliant yet unsentimental piece of writing about a woman called An Tinh who, like Kim, escapes from her country’s tyrannical regime to Québec, in search of the ‘American dream’. The prose is immediate and impressionistic, and whether she is describing maggots crawling in their thousands from a cesspit or detailing various members of her protagonist’s family, the writing is rich, mesmeric and subtle.
At 162 pages, Ru is a short but intense potpourri of vignettes – powerful, superbly realized and well worth reading.