Ru by Kim Thuy and Sheila Fischman (translator)
|Ru by Kim Thuy and Sheila Fischman (translator)|
|Category: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: A fascinating view of Vietnam through the eyes Ru. This novel travels from the depths of the past up to the Cambodian war and the struggle of the boat people as refugees in the footsteps of one family. It's an easy read, but profound and inspirational; the sort of book that could make us think twice the next time we moan about the weather or a late bus.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 160||Date: May 2012|
|Publisher: Clerkenwell Press|
Everyone of a certain age will remember the American withdrawal from Vietnam in 1975. This was the answer to years of student protests and the prayers of many US parents who saw sons like theirs drafted to war only to return in body bags. As far as the west was concerned, the suffering was over. However, for the Vietnamese people, the suffering continued as the Khmer Rouge and then the invading Cambodians killed, tortured and destroyed people who were just trying to survive. Ru is written by and about one such person.
Ru (French for stream or stream of tears, ironically enough) can trace her relatives back through Vietnam's history making it not only her home, but an intrinsic part of her being. But gradually life changes as the persecution starts, starvation spreads affecting even the formerly affluent and 're-education' camps, in all their brutality, claim those whose only crime is to think differently from the regime (or for their neighbours to accuse them of it). The choice of options becomes whittled down until escape is the only mode of survival left. This is why Ru and her family find themselves crammed onto an overcrowded, leaky boat bound for Malaysia. Those who survive the journey make their way on to nations willing to take them. For Ru (and author Kim Thuy) this means Canada. This is the reason I hesitate to call this a novel for, although fictionalised, it reflects the true-life experiences of so many.
Part of the wonder if this book is its layout. Ru's thoughts, life, memories and history are presented in a series of small vignettes, many being only a page or half that in length. Each page reveals a different facet of past or present life in an almost random order, but, rather than seeming disjointed, together they form a rich and almost poetic whole. Page after page we're treated to fascinating glimpses of a rich heritage and the culture of a people who felt that life is a struggle in which sorrow leads to defeat. Despite this, however, Ru's story is inevitably peppered with sorrow. There's the sorrow of her mother having to give up her own childhood to become adult for her siblings, the sorrow of the kidnapping of Ru's paternal grandfather, the sorrow of unrequited love and, most poignantly, the sorrow of parents desperately trying to ensure their children places on unviable boats, even if it means parents remaining to face whatever tortures lay ahead as well as the sorrow originating from day to day life, such as unrequited love. There are also the remnants left behind by the US army... the 'dust of life': children born of Vietnamese mothers whom they left behind until the US government took up their responsibilities for them years later.
However, this is by no means a book subsumed in misery. It celebrates a proud, although downtrodden, country and the ultimate survival and triumph of the refugee population. We're shown the ingenuity needed to smuggle a live pig past a sentry post. Another sunshine moment, the joy of seeing Ru's mother enjoying a delayed youth at the age of 55, is heightened by the knowledge of what went before.
This may be a small book but it's by no means inconsequential. Kim Thuy was a 10 year old boat person who, on arriving in Canada, worked her way up from seamstress to lawyer and it's this determination and indomitability that is encapsulated in its life-affirming page; it's quite simply inspirational.
I would like to thank the publisher for giving Bookbag a copy of this book for review.
If you'd like to read more about the Vietnamese conflict and its survivors, perhaps try The Beauty of Humanity Movement by Camilla Gibb.
You can read more book reviews or buy Ru by Kim Thuy and Sheila Fischman (translator) at Amazon.co.uk
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