Ru by Kim Thúy, translated by Sheila Fischman - review
"Life is a struggle," runs a Vietnamese proverb, "in which sorrow leads to defeat." Thúy's fictionalised memoir adopts a similarly unsentimental attitude to a life of extremes. Born into a wealthy South Vietnamese family as the Tet offensive rages, she flees the Communist regime, endures a brutal boat journey and a Malaysian refugee camp, and emerges, cold and mute, in Quebec. Thúy's debut contains around 100 vignettes, some dealing with her journey, others delving into the strange customs of Canada, the taste of noodle soup and the fate of friends and neighbours. The accounts of escape and arrival are exciting, but Ru is more about observation and atmosphere, and the doubts of an uprooted woman who wonders whether good fortune means enough bags to waterproof your refugee-camp squat, or enough money to buy a pair of shoes "whose price in my native land would be enough to feed a family of five for one whole year". Thúy's impressionistic approach means the book can feel rudderless, but the stories are poetic and powerful.
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