Ru by Kim Thúy

RuReading Ru by Kim Thúy is like taking a long overland journey while looking up regularly to witness that which passes in front of our eyes. Sometimes the view is stunning, sometimes it elicits sadness, it can be moving, nostalgic, perhaps an odour transports us back to a scene from childhood, a person we see reminds us of someone we once knew.

Reading it in French imbues it with a drifting, lyrical resonance, sometimes I drifted off as the excess of descriptive words were beyond my reach and I was too lazy to look them up, not wanting to interrupt the flow. Until the next day, when I would happily read with the two dictionaries beside me and remember how much more fulfilling it is to venture further into unknown linguistic territory, enriching one’s vocabulary in another language.

blue dragon tattooMost of the pages read like short vignettes, experiences that provoke a memory, the man at the petrol station who sees a scar and recognises a childhood vaccination from Vietnam, his own hidden beneath a tattoo of a blue dragon, he shares a few memories, he touches her scar and places her finger in the middle of the blue dragon.

Reflections of times gone by, the journey of a woman with her family leaving the south of Vietnam for Canada via a refugee camp in Malaysia, she is a woman connected with another culture and the past, who intends to and does embrace ‘the dream’, whose own children will grow up in that modern culture with different references. Uprooted and yet connected at the same time.

A short but powerful read, that is incredibly moving without being sentimental. A rare and authentic talent, Kim Thúy channels her experience into this fictional tribute, which makes me remember reading Vadney Ratner’s In The Shadow of the Banyan, a tribute to another author’s human experience, struggle and survival despite the horrors lived through.

Ru in French means a small stream or a flow – of water, blood, tears or liquid. In Vietnamese, Ru is a lullaby.

Also Reviewed By

Nancy at Ifsofactodotme 

Jennifer D at LiteralLife

I read the book in French, but it is available in English, under the same title.

Ru English

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22 thoughts on “Ru by Kim Thúy

  1. This sounds really interesting. I’m not sure my rusty first year uni French would be up to it but it would be good to give it a go and I think I’d find it interesting having visited Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia last year. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

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    • I’m much more used to having to speak French than I am at reading it, and don’t read a lot in French because reading is an escape from the necessity of having to navigate life daily in another language, but this little book was such a joy to read, I wanted to let it speak in its written language, even though ironically, French is also Kim Thúy’s second language. If you have visited that part of the world, I’m sure you’ll find it even more poignant.

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  2. I love the sound of taking a long journey while reading so I’ll have to take a look at this one. I also love whenever a word means different things in different languages, yet somehow they’re connected. The sound of flowing water can be a kind of lullaby and it sounds like this book can be relaxing in that way too.

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    • This one defintiely fits in with your theme of seeing the world in different ways Sheila, Kim Thuy straddles that middle way, born of growing up in one culture and adopting another, connected to one culture of her past with children connected to that culture of her present, her view is unique and touching. I hope you find a copy.

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  3. Very intrigued by the title, which strikes me as a metaphor for the way the book is constructed (I took a peek at a Kindle sample). My French is much too rusty to attempt reading the original, but the English translation seems to capture the lyrical, episodic, quality of the narrative. This is one I suspect I’ll appreciate on more than one level.

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    • They’re both great books Kimberly, though very different in style, Ru has won quite a few awards, mcuh to the surprise of the author, who when she won the Goverenor General’s Laureate, said she didn’t know what the word meant, she thought it was a prank radio call! Her comments remind me a little of listening to Bảo Ninh, the author of The Sorrow of War speak, he said he wasn’t a writer, he just had to write that wtory to deal with the experience he had been through and was equally surprised at the response, they both touch on something that touches us all.

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  4. This seems like a book best read early in the morning to savour the language and reflect upon the memories of the characters. I know how it can be disruptive to the flow of reading to stop and get the dictionary if you come across a word you don’t know. Sometimes I just note it down and do my best to glean it’s meaning from the context. It sounds like a book I’d really enjoy.

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  5. Lovely review, Claire. I read Man last year and thought it a glorious celebration of language. It’s also told in short vignettes in which Thúy paints beautiful word pictures, often filled with yearning. A tribute to the translator as I read it in English. Delighted to find that Ru has been translated, too. I’ll be adding it to my list.

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  6. I’ve got this sitting on my shelf. As usual with books I buy they don’t get read for quite a while. But after reading your review I’m going to make it a must-read this month.

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    • Oh I love it when a review pushes a book up the TBR list, that happens to me often. Ru was so good, I went back to the library and took out her other book called ‘Man’ which is all about memories and food, I think you’re going to have to read that one too!!

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