Shelf Life
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Shelf Life: Ru by Kim Thúy

“I am lucky that I’ve learned to savour the pleasure of resting my head in a hand, and my parents are lucky to be able to capture the love of my children when the little ones drop kisses into their hair, spontaneously, with no formality, during a session of tickling in bed. I myself have touched my father’s head only once. He had ordered me to lean on it as I stepped over the handrail of the boat.” 

Kim Thúy is such a masterful storyteller. The voice of her narrator meanders almost effortlessly between different space-times and histories, navigating through them through details that are often presented in breathtakingly ordinary ways: a colour, the changed tense of a word, an object, a person.

There is a term for the way she writes: 細膩.





“Without writing, he wouldn’t have heard the snow melting or leaves growing or clouds sailing through the sky. Nor would he have seen the dead end of a thought, the remains of a star or the texture of a comma.” 

Written almost as a series of monologues, connected together through loose linkages, without chapter demarcations or titles, Thúy’s Ru lives up to its name, flowing narratively through the tragedies of the Vietnam War, refugee displacement and immigration, motherhood and familial ties. At the heart of the novel is what it means to carry: to carry on, to carry out, to carry with, or just to carry.

As the narrative progresses, a complete story does not emerge, nor do we get any sort of completion. Instead what we get is the feeling that we’ve moved over ground, changing direction often and constantly, but also learning about the ground we walk over as we read.

Ru does not give us access, but it asks us to listen and to feel and to try to imagine and understand. The narrator evokes fleeting memories of people, events, and places that in their brief appearances are powerful and moving.

It is probably this quality of narrative voice that kept me as a reader captive.

Translated from the French by Sheila Fischman, Thúy’s language is soft yet polished –  almost too close. The descriptive narration never feels forced, but always sounds thoughtful.

I am extremely appreciative and in awe of Fischman’s masterful maneuvering of language as a translator. Translations are so difficult, but at no point did I ever feel in the reading that there was another language the story belonged in. I think that is the mark of a great translator.

Highly recommended. Please read it.

This entry was posted in: Shelf Life


jaziimun is an interdisciplinary artist who works in text, paper arts and tea. She is also an arts programmer, and a ceramic hobbyist. She is also a proud bun mom.

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