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"...after only thirty years I already recognize our old selves only through fragments, through scars, through glimmers of light." It is these fragments, the scars and the glimmers of light that Kim Thuy has made the central theme of her book. Unusual in structure and beautifully, often lyrically written, the author's loosely connected vignettes paint an impressionistic, yet intimate portrait of the heroine, her family, her country and what it means to feel connected and uprooted at the same time. Evocative in her depiction of people and places, recalling memories and bringing outassociations across time and space, the heroine recounts events and circumstances, essential or negligible, sometimes stories within stories. Like the workings of memory in our brains, nothing is told chronologically; much is only hinted at and, onsuperficial reading, not developed in depth. Connections between vignettes often hinge on one thought, one colour, one expression... Yet, taken together and letting theshort fragments hold our attention for more than a moment or two, the reader is taken on a deeply moving voyage not only into the past of the heroine and her family,but also into the inner struggles of an individual displaced and disconnected from her roots, into her anxieties and fears to accept new ties that can bind... She travels with nothing much but her books, not wanting to weigh herself down with possessions, having learned that "we must never regret what we've left behind." Following another Vietnamese proverb - "Life is a struggle in which sorrow leads to defeat" - she balances sad memories with cheerful ones, accounts of brutality and despair with beauty and hope.Ru, by Kim Thuy, is a short, poetically written novel based on the life of the writer as a young girl in Saigon, Vietnam, a refugee in Malaysia, an immigrant in Quebec, and finally a modern working woman and loving mother of two Canadian-born kids. Through vignettes that flip from the past to the more recent past, to the present, the narrative voice is always compelling, bringing to the surface the reader’s sensibilitiesand empathy for a child forced to dangerously escape her native land and flung into the arms of a new and foreign country. The hardships the narrator and her relatives experience during the Vietnam War and the startling maltreatment of the most vulnerable in the novel-women, children and the handicap – are shared through imagery and diction that are both captivating and moving. This autobiographical
novel reminds us that we shouldn’t stop tapping into the immigrant and especially refugee experience, to understand the plight of innocent people in the hands of politics and war. As we read, we are bound to remember the deep and hidden crate of memories and scars we don’t always see when we look into the eyes of “foreign” people living in our shared country. Books such as Ru help us to be less ignorant, more compassionate, and to see things through the lens of a culture otherwise unbeknown to us.