Book Review: 'Ru'

Alan Cheuse reviews the first novel of Kim Thuy, Ru. The 2009 book has just been translated from French to English.

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"Ru" is the title of the first book by Kim Thuy. Like the book's narrator, she was born in Vietnam during the war and fled by boat in the 1970s.

Critic Alan Cheuse says the novel's prose is pure poetry.

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: In trimmed down sentences and short bursts of narrative, Thuy's novel delicately unfolds, in Sheila Fischman's translation from the French, carrying us from the narrator's birth through the difficult last days of the Vietnam War and the painful and even more difficult period of her family's escape from their country, dodging pirates, surviving the Malaysian sun, to their eventual repatriation in Canada.

In this new world, times don't get easier quickly, except that family ties sustain the narrator and her parents. Faint impressions of childhood friendships and family bonding, and the eventual revelation about the narrator's scars, more on her soul than her body, give the story a memoir-like intensity. Paradoxically, the novel becomes more powerful because of its seeming reticence to raise the voice level above a near-whisper.

In any case, she tells us, since our escape by boat, we learned how to travel very light. I take only books, she adds later. Nothing else can become truly mine. I sleep just as well in a hotel room, a guest room or a stranger's bed as in my own. In fact, I'm always glad to move; it gives me a chance to lighten my belongings, to leave objects behind so that my memory can become truly selective, can remember only images that stay luminous behind my closed eyelids.

Kim Thuy's images on these spare pages in this slender book will stay with you in the same way, luminous behind your closed eyelids.

SIEGEL: Alan Cheuse reviewing "Ru" by Kim Thuy.

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