It cheapens Ru to say that it is simply a story of immigration: this slim, beautiful book is introspective and honest, and much more universal in its message. Author Kim Thúy’s non-linear, fragmented narrative about a family fleeing a former life of luxury in Saigon to Malaysian refugee camps to small-town Quebec, dwells on unexpected details and quiet memoires, forcing you to understand Ru through a sieve. Ru’s champion, Cameron Bailey, the Artistic Director of the Toronto International Film Festival, successfully defended it to victory over the other books this 2015 bout. If you enjoyed Ru the best, the following books, whether they evoke similar themes to Ru orshare Thúy’s quiet writing style, all catch at the heart of identity, and reflect on what it means to be a person of two (or more) places.
This diverse collection of stories, personal essays, and poems is united by their underlying theme: how people came to immigrate to Alberta, and their experiences forging a new life there. This book celebrates the gifts and talents that immigrants bring to our country by giving a home to the contributors’ excellent writer’s craft, as well as the uniquely experienced but universally moving stories of departure and arrival into Canada. Like Thúy, many of these writers went through much to get here: contributor Jalal Barzanji, for example, is Edmonton’s first PEN Writer-in-Exile after being forced to leave Kurdistan during its 1996 Civil War.
Originally raised in Namibia, Edmonton-based author Peter Midgley returns to the African country with his daughter, Sinead, in this stunning book. Part travel memoir, part history, and all the time reading like a gripping novel, Counting Teeth examines the complicated history of Namibia – of which wars, apartheid, and an uneasy new order all play a part – and how things are further complicated when personal memories can cast both light and shadow on one’s ability to witness. In this way, it reflects Ru’s own complicated retelling of events: as Thúy said in the kick-off to Canada Reads, she wanted the writing to be so quiet that people would forget what they had read, to be left with only their feelings.
On the surface, little connects Denis Sampson’s immigrant experience to that of Thúy’s: she fled Vietnam amid the violent Tet offensive, he left Ireland to continue his studies in Montreal. Just below, however, is the shared struggle among all immigrants to make sense of their dual lives and identities: love for one’s adopted home and fidelity to their original one. Sampson’s heartfelt autobiography reveals that the search for a new life can morph into that search becoming one’s life.
Written and performed by award-winning playwright/actor David Yee, carried away on the crest of a wave examines how one catastrophic event can forever alter the lives of millions. In Ru, this is the boat people whose experiences Thúy concatenates into a single narrative; in Yee’s series of vignettes, this is the 2004 tsunami that struck off of the Indian Ocean. Yee’s characters face the ripple effect of the tsunami, simultaneously bound together and broken apart by its impact.
Min Fami edited by Ghadeer Malek and Ghaida Moussa (Inanna Publications)
While speaking at a Canada Reads event, Kim Thúy mentioned that there was no singular takeaway from her book: when she spoke to different audiences, Romanian audiences dwelled on the Communist overthrow in the book; Western audiences the immigration experience, and Vietnamese the story of the boat people. Likewise, Min Fami rejects the typically one-dimensional representation of Arab women, connecting shared experiences and outlooks through essays, poetry, short stories, and art.
Missed the first part of Canada Keeps Reading week? You can catch up on our previous recommendations on
Day 3, and
All Lit Up is produced by the Literary Press Group and LitDistCo. LPG and LitDistCo acknowledge the financial support of the Department of Canadian Heritage, the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Ontario Arts Council.
All views expressed by bloggers and contributors to the All Lit Up blog are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of All Lit Up or the Literary Press Group.
All Lit Up acknowledges we are hosted on the lands of the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishinaabeg, the Haudenosaunee, and the Wendat. We also recognize the enduring presence of all First Nations, Métis and the Inuit people, and we are grateful to have the opportunity to meet and work on this territory.