My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Kim Thúy's Ru is a moving, elegantly written and deeply personal work that demonstrates the relentlessness of the past and the immortal pull of home.
A semi-autobiography that draws on Thúy's own experiences as well as those of her kin, Ru recounts the musings and recollections of, Nguyên An Tinh, a Vietnamese woman in her 30s who spent her youth running away from a cage home in Saigon, escaping the communist terror in Southern Vietnam and travelling by boat with her fellow refugees to seek safety.
Ru is recounted in snippets, des bribes, as Thúy takes readers back and forth in time, distance and memory. Initially, it seems that we are only reading the story of one woman; as the novel progresses, however, the gates of history open up as we learn the stories of soldiers in the war, the host family that supported the refugees, the Vietnamese women who worked in the rice fields...
Much tradition and culture is also discussed in Ru as Thúy writes about noodles and soup, staples of Vietnamese breakfasts, and how touching another's head is a grave insult in Vietnamese culture.
Thúy tells the most memorable and horrifying stories in simple and poetic ways, moving and shocking us all at once. We learn of diamonds etched into the teeth of escapees, a Vietnamese woman dying after falling into an open-air toilet, soldiers needing to sleep with ice to forget the heat of war. All stories are told in an interrupted and graceful stream of thought, which is fitting since ru means 'flow' in French and 'lullaby' in Vietnamese.
So in a string of short and non-linear flashbacks, we begin to piece together not only Nguyên's story, but also that of the boat people, those expelled from their homeland by war and armed with only the courage to live.
In this way, Ru demonstrates the power of literature in helping readers become more accepting, empathetic and internationally-minded people. One's heart goes out to Nguyên in compassion and pity as she recollects the lure of the American dream; one cannot help but feel for her when she remembers the nostalgic pull of Bounce. It is through the characters we meet in books that we come to love our protagonists regardless of their race and gender and eventually develop a world view considers human beings by character and not premeditated judgement.
In Ru, there is a scene where Nguyên explains that she tells her son, Pascal, a Vietnamese story so that he learns something no schools will teach today - so that he carries on a part of that lost history. If such passage of information is Nguyên's aim in writing Ru, she succeeds. She not only captures the essence of childhood, young adulthood and motherhood in a style that is beautifully poetic, but also captures the hardships of the "gens du pays" to whom the novel is dedicated.
Ru is a beautiful and evocative tribute to all who lost their lives - both in death and in displacement - in seeking a better future. It's a novel that reminds us to be grateful for our present - but to never dismiss the past.
Mes parents nous rappellent souvent, à mes frères et à moi, qu'ils n'auront pas d'argent à nous laisser en héritage, mais je crois qu'ils nous ont déjà légué la richesse de leur mémoire, qui nous permet de saisir la beauté d'une grappe de glycine, la fragilité d'un mot, la force de l'émerveillement. Plus encore, ils nous ont offert des pieds pour marcher jusqu'à nos rêves, jusqu'à l'infini.
J'avais oublié que l'amour vient de la tête et non pas du coeur. De tout le corps, seule la tête importe. Il suffit de toucher la tête d'un Vietnamien pour l'insulter, non seulement lui mais tout son arbre généalogique.
Si une marque d'affection peut parfois être prise pour une offense, peut-être que le geste d'aimer n'est pas universel: il doit être traduit d'une langue à l'autre, il doit être appris. Dans le cas du vietnamien, il est possible de classifier , de quantifier le geste d'aimer par des mots spécifiques: aimer par goût (thích), aimer sans être amoureux ( thuong), aimer amoureusement (yeu), aimer avec ivresse ( mê), aimer aveuglément ( mu quang), aimer par gratitude (tinh nghia). Il est donc impossible d'aimer tout court, d'aimer sans sa tête.
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