I don’t know how to do justice to this book. Beautiful. Majestic in its tour of the human spirit from degradation to renewal. Cream rising from ashes.
“Ru” is the title. Kim Thuy, the author. She defines the title before embarking on a journey of vignettes link by word and character association. A winner of Canada’s Governor General’s Literary Award, it may autobiographical in whole or in part. You understand the title better at the end of the book. What humans have wrought on people, a culture: Vietnam.
“Ru”- “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.”
This is the story of a refugee- a tale for all refugees and many immigrants. The names and places changed to protect the innocent. A girl from an upper class South Vietnamese Saigon family conquered into poverty by the North, surviving an exile to Malaysia and displaced to Quebec to become a cultural composite. After the fall, her narration is one of senses. Biographical pearls of her extended family – living, dead, disabled – linked by a remembrance of smell, by food, by vision, by hope and sacrifice. The prose is light in touch, at times funny, masking the travail of the phoenix as it rises.
Ms. Thuy is such a refugee. She rose to be an interpreter, a lawyer and now is a writer. A few of the anecdotes miss, but they are small troughs. The next to last best describes this book.
“In thirty years, Sao Mai resurfaced like a phoenix reborn from its ashes, like Vietnam from its iron curtain and my parents from the toilet bowls they had to scrub. Alone as much together, all of these individuals from my past have shaken the grime off their backs in order to spread their wings with plumage of red and gold, before thrusting themselves sharply towards the great blue space, decorating my children’s sky, showing them that one horizon always hides another and it goes on like that to infinity, to the unspeakable beauty of renewal, to intangible rapture. As for me, it is true all the way to the possibility of this book, to the moment when my words glide across the curve of your lips, to the sheets of white paper that put up with my trail, or rather the trail of those who walked before me, for me. I move forward in the trace of their footsteps as in a waking dream where the scent of a newly blown poppy is no longer a perfume but a blossoming; where the deep red of a maple leaf in autumn is no longer a colour but a grace; where a country is no longer a place but a lullaby.”
I keep a list of favorite books. Not all the excellent books I have read make the list. Half-way through this short novel, I added it to my list. You should read “Ru”.