When I heard that the winner of the 2015 Canada Reads contest was Ru: A Novel
by Kim Thuy, I was a little shocked.
The buzz around the literary world was that Thomas King’s The Inconvenient Indian was being touted as the strongest book. It is a strong book, and I encourage people to read it as well. Ru, however is the clear winner.
But I have to agree with the book that was chosen. Mr. King, you wrote an exceptional book of Non-Fiction. All of this year’s contestants had so many positives, as did Mr. King’s but Ru is in a class by itself.
Just the spell binding way Ru was written, had me from the start.
I had a friend tell me she tried the book before and had trouble getting into it. This, for me, couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Before I even start talking about the story itself, I want to comment on the packaging of the book.
There is no gloss to this cover. The cover paper’s texture is a pleasure for your finger tips. Almost like you are reading a book made long ago. The embossing of the dragon on the front was a constant presence to three out of the five fingers on my left hand. I must say I think the other two were jealous.
The slim volume reads like journal entries. Some long with great detail, and some over in a few short sentences, like a quick jot of a memory.
The work of fiction jumps back and forth from modern day Quebec, to the Vietnam war, stopping in the years in between of recounts of poverty and prosperity. A true narrative, and one which works well for the reader.
The story is about the life of Nguyen An Tinh. As a young girl, her family fled from the communists in Vietnam by boat hopping for a better life. Once part of a prosperous family, she is driven from her home not by the Vietnam war that just finished, but by the communist occupation that followed.
Horrifying realism to the degradation and suffering at the refugee camp that was only built for 200, but housed 2000 people. The darkness of the hull of the boat as the people were crammed in so close together that other’s limbs blended in with her own.
All of the plights that she endured on her journey to Canada made her the strong, family centric woman that she is in the present. Facing the truth of her own sons’ troubles, and what she went through as a child, she is still able to remember things of beauty among the sadness.
The book is short, a mere 141 pages with sometimes not more than 100 words on a page. It seemed to take a more poetry based style as its format (It isn’t). I was able to finish it quickly but I was satisfied with the length. It wasn’t dragged out like some books do to meet some invisible line of what’s an acceptable book length. I think if it was any longer it would have ruined the journal like feel. It was just right.
The language is beautiful in this book. I can see the hut that her aunt lived in, or the sitting rooms of the women that her Uncle Two would frequent. I was expecting a more word heavy novel (this was the impression I got from my friend’s description) but was surprised at the straight forward way that the author wrote it. The power here is the show and not tell.
I truly believe that Ru deserved to win. I think that it is a great addition to the past winners of the Canada Reads title.
Now to the why should you read it:
I think for me it has been a really long time since I have read a work of fiction that has centered on an Asian country. I could name countless ones that take place in North America (which it does take place at points in the book) or in Europe. It also focuses on a war that is not really touched in modern day fiction. Maybe because it is slowly coming out of the “too close for comfort” stage in our collective minds, this war still touches a lot of people’s lives.
I takes a hard look at how refugees were treated after the war. Forced to first share their homes with the communist soldiers, then being completely forced out. To be bitten and bled by bed bugs. To have no basic comforts anymore because they were ejected from their lives.
I could see after taking the journey with the main character that she could look back on her life with a high level of resentment. I didn’t get that from this book. It felt like it was just written by the main character’s hand to record her life. I could a few times feel the shame in the main character’s voice but then it would go as quickly as it came.
A beautiful read that is worthy of the award. I will encourage my friend to give it another try. I know once she truly commits to the book she will enjoy it.