Ru by Kim Thúy
Ru by Kim Thúy
Publication date: October 2009
Publisher: Libre Expression (French edition)
Random House Canada (English edition)
“Kim Thúy’s Ru is nothing short of exquisite – a beautiful and lyrically written book that quietly takes your breath away.” – Heather Reisman, Chief Executive Office of Indigo
Not only did the good reviews had me very excited to get my hands on this book but the author is a Vietnamese-born Canadian. I was so proud to see someone from my community be recognized for something other than being a doctor, pharmacist or accountant. No disrespect of course. Though Kim Thúy is a lawyer by profession, she is now known as an award-winning author. Her debut novel won the Governor General’s Award for French Language fiction in 2010 and recently, the 2015 edition of Canada Reads. It was also shortlisted nominee for the 2012 Scotiabank Giller Prize and the 2013 Amazon.ca First Novel Award.
“Ru” means lullaby or cradle in Vietnamese. The title evokes a feeling of tenderness and to me, perhaps leading to an emotional story. Once I bought the book, I began reading it immediately and was ready to be moved to tears by the story of An Tinh Nguyen, a woman born in Saigon in 1968 during the Tet Offensive who immigrates to Canada with her family as a child. I imagined a touching story about the struggles of the character, leaving everything she has ever known, escaping a country destroyed by war on a fishing boat with hundreds of others just like her and building a new life in a foreign country. This novel is probably loosely based on the author’s journey to Quebec. It’s a story that many boat people can relate to. It’s the story that my family also lived.
As I progressed through the book, it became more and more difficult to turn the pages. It wasn’t because the story pulled on my heartstrings. I unfortunately did not feel any connection with the characters. NOTHING. And I think most Vietnamese that lived through the war and their children who heard countless stories will not be able to relate to the experiences described in the novel either, who appear to have come from the point of view of a privileged person who was too young to remember and understand the reality of the war and the sufferance that haunted so many long after.
After reaching the third of the novel, I simply wanted to stop and set the book aside but I forced myself to finish it. The poetic way the author told the story was a series of snapshots of her main character’s memories and random thoughts, jumping from one moment to another without developing them enough. At some point, after she had introduced a minor character in her story, I thought to myself ‘Why was he even mentioned?’ Aside from a brief description of a meaningless interaction between this character and An Tinh Nguyen, there was no back story to the character or follow-up. It was a little bit like: “I met John today at the supermarket. I saw that he was buying apples. I wonder why his wife wasn’t with him.” The next story would be something completely different and you will never hear about John again. Who is John? Why was he at the supermarket? Why did he matter? How about them apples?
I couldn’t get myself to like the book at all and it was disappointing because I really wanted to. Perhaps I expected too much. The author could have dug deeper into the story, develop the characters and their feelings after the war so that we feel some kind of empathy or attachment to them. The stories that my parents told me about their transition in Quebec after the Vietnam war was more heartfelt than this. The book left me indifferent, and I was so happy to close it and leave it somewhere. This was the first time I realized that even if a book received 90% of good reviews and won awards, it doesn’t mean it would be your cup of tea. It was a dreadful and frustrating read for such a thin book. 152 pages of blandness that put me to sleep. The characters didn’t make a difference, there was no point to the story and I couldn’t see the beauty in the way it was written that so many claimed it to be.
How did you feel about Ru? Do you think it deserved all the ooo’s and aaaah’s it received? Let me know what you thought of it!
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