Vi by Kim Thúy

Vi by Kim Thuy

“Vi” by Kim Thúy
Publication date: April 4, 2016
Publisher: Libre Expression (French edition)
Pages: 144
Rating: ♥ ♥ 1/2

When I first heard about Kim Thúy, a Vietnamese-born Canadian author, I was very excited to read her work and was proud of all the recognition she had received. To my disappointment, her debut novel “Ru” left me feeling empty as it lacked depth, and development both in her story and with her characters. You can read my review here.

I was hesitant to buy her new book titled “Vi” mostly because I had told myself that I will never read any of her future writings due to the negative experience I had. However, I decided to give the author a second chance as the synopsis seemed promising.

In Vietnamese, « Vi » means what is infinitely small, microscopically small. In this book, Vi is the name of a little girl, the youngest sister of three brothers, the “little treasure” that finds herself in a big life and its chaos. By leaving Saigon for Montreal, by visiting Suzhou and Boston, by growing up next to ordinary heroes, she witnesses the grandness of the sea, the multiplicity of horizons, the oneness of sadness, the luxury of peace, the complexity of love, the endless possibilities and the violence of beauty. 

Like a good student, she watches, learns, receives. But will she ever know how to live this big life? 

While the story is about Vi, the first half of the book is mainly focused on her grandparents, her parents, her mother’s friend whom she fled the country with along with her mother and brothers after the Vietnam War, and how the latter adapted to their new lives upon arriving in Quebec. Her story comes much later and it explores love, friendship, her professional journey and travels. She has a falling out with her mother over a life decision she had made which didn’t feel like it was resolved by the end of the novel. She simply moved on with her life without any particular attachment.

Once again, Kim Thúy tells her story through snapshots of memories (most likely her own) that often involved unnecessary details that are irrelevant to the growth of Vi’s character. Her family’s past had little influence on her part of the story but Thúy spent close to half of her 144-page book on them. Instead of including minor characters that did not complement the plot in a significant way, it would have been much better to elaborate on certain aspects such as Vi’s emotional struggles or her mother’s. At times, it was difficult for me to know exactly where or when the story is taking place as Thúy tends to jump from one location to another as well as different points in time. When the story is on a continuous timeline, the transition between the chapters is not always done smoothly, again feeling like jumping from one idea to another. The novel ends with thoughts of her estranged father, a person that had little importance throughout the whole book until the last few pages.

One thing that I cannot deny is how rich Kim Thúy’s vocabulary is. She paints a very accurate portrait of Vietnam and its culture, and her descriptions are precise. What I particularly appreciated is how she described the Vietnamese traditional dress (áo dài). Her words creates this exquisite imagery that seem to overshadow the lack of depth of her story.  

I am a bit torn as I’m not sure whether I liked this book or not. I thought Vi’s family history was charming, how her grandfather fell in love with her grandmother or the way her parents met. When it comes to what was supposed to be the main story (Vi’s), I felt indifferent though I could relate to certain aspects such as growing up in Quebec and following a more occidental lifestyle. When I turned the last page, I asked myself “That’s it?” Beautifully written but needs a meaningful storyline for the main character.

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