Mãn by Kim Thúy

“I offer you
The life I have not lived
The dream I can but dream
A soul I’ve left empty
During sleepless nights”

3/5 stars.
ebook, 153 pages.
Read from September 30, 2020 to October 6, 2020.

After reading Ru, the winner of the 2015 Canada Reads debates I was interested to see what else Thúy had to offer. This was also a nice short read to help me catch up on my reading goal for 2020.

This is the story of Mãn, a girl born in war torn Vietnam and how she came to under the care of three different women and what brought her to Montreal, Canada. She dutifully marries a Vietnamese restaurateur in Montreal and finds that she has a passion and knack for cooking. The food brings back memories of her home and the people who visit the restaurant come for this same taste of nostalgia and emotion. While she is the ever dutiful wife, she has little in common with her husband and they barely know each other. She is not unhappy, yet there is a void in her life that is missing, a divide between her life in Vietnam and her life in Canada. When Mãn meets a French chef and begins a passionate love affair, she discovers the elements in her life that she was missing and begins to connect the pieces of her life and story.

This book is a slow burner that peaks with intensity brought from Mãn’s food and eventually the passion she shares with her lover. The writing is beautiful, illicit, and moving. While not as potent as Ru this short novel is a great example of Thúy’s writing style and capabilities. It mixes prose in the languages of both Vietnamese, French/English (depending on the version you read) in a masterful collaboration through the book that compliments the plot and feel of the book.

Based on some of Thúy’s own personal history it’s easy to speculate that perhaps there is some truth in Mãn’s story as the plot is so emotive. Thúy herself arrived in Montreal from Vietnam in 1979 when she was only ten years old. While I would say that I still preferred Ru this was still a welcome read and a great introduction to Thúy and her writing.

Vi by Kim Thúy

“My first name, Bảo Vi, showed my parents’ determination to “protect the smallest one.” In a literal translation, I am “Tiny precious microscopic.” As is often the case in Vietnam, I did not match the image of my own name.”

3/5 stars.
ebook, 88 pages.
Read September 28, 2018.

Having enjoyed Ru for its beautiful prose, I was happy to find this short read by Thúy.

This story follows a similar formula to Ru, as it follows one girl, Vi, and her family’s story of immigration from Vietnam to Canada during the midst of the Vietnam war. Their father does not take the perilous journey over with causing a tear in the family. Once in Canada, the once affluent family has to make serious financial adjustments in their new home. In a way, Vi is another adaptation of Ru. Vi is a first-generation Vietnamese-Canadian stuck in between the cultures and traditions her mother believes in and the new ones in their new home in Montreal, Canada. As with many first-generation immigrants, Vi is at odds with her values and identity. Her mother is traditional and wants her to follow her upbringing but the current atmosphere in Canada is very different compared to where she grew up and she dabbles in what her mother views as scandalous behaviours.

The story is short and the ending is ambivalent but it’s an honest rendition of one person’s struggles to come to terms with their own identity as they grow in a new country there is, however, some jumping around with the timeframe in the plot that is hard to follow at times.  As with Ru, I am curious to know how much of the story actually happened to the author as she shares a similar background story to her characters.

Overall, this book is a beautiful read and an easy way to get a quick read in if you’re looking to catch up on a reading goal.

Canada Reads 2015

 Canada-Reads-2015

While it took me longer than I would have liked I have finished reading the 5 finalists in this year’s Canada Reads competition. The theme for this year is books that break barriers and the declared winner was Ru by Kim Thuy, a selection I actually agree with. In regards to the debates, I am happy with how this one panned out. I’m glad that When Everything Feels Like The Movies made it to the final round, despite and because of its controversy.  You can watch all of the debates on CBC’s website. In terms of how much I enjoyed the books though, this is how I would rank them (links to my reviews included):

1) And The Birds Rained Down by Jocelyne Saucier – One of the most beautiful books I’ve read in years. It’s the remarkable story of a few elderly characters who choose to die in their own way. Through their journey the characters start to find, that even at their age, there is still always something to be learned.

2) Ru By Kim Thuy – Poetic and moving, this book depicts the harsh realities of a refugees/immigrants coming to Canada. The book broke barriers with its writing style and harsh truths.

3) When Everything Feels Like The Movies by Raziel Reid –  The most controversial book in this series. In terms of breaking barriers,  I felt that this book topped them all. The book contains graphic and violent homosexual content involving the bullying of a teen. The book is relevant as the story mirrors an actual even that took place in Canadian history.

4) Intolerable by Kamal Al-Solaylee – Another remarkable story of immigration and suffering. The writing style is what bumped this book down the list for me rather than the content. The sacrifices and guilt that the author has had to live with in terms of his choices for a better life are hard to imagine but make for an interesting read.

5) Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King – I wanted to rank this book higher but in terms of the other books in this series it just didn’t stack up as well. This book is a very important book for Canadians to read and King broke a lot of barriers with his brash honesty and style of writing.

Onward to 2016! I wonder what next years theme will be?