Ru is a strongly auto-biographic retelling of the life experiences of a now middle-aged woman who was born in Vietnam and escaped with her family by boat when she was ten years-old. After a short stay in a refugee camp in Malaysia, the family landed in Quebec, in the town of Granby who is most known for its zoo and not for its ethnic diversity, at least not at the time, quite similarly to other towns in Quebec including my hometown.
Kim Thuy, through her narrator An Tinh, talks about growing up in Vietnam, leaving as a refugee, landing in Quebec in a society whose codes she had to figure out. She talks about building a life in this country and returning to Vietnam as a visitor. She tells stories of her parents, grand-parents, uncles and aunts, cousing and siblings, now spread all over the world but sharing a common history and uprootedness.
This book is like an unstructured reflection about life, memoirs without a timeline, without too many details. Each page start with a new idea, a new story. The outlook on life is one of wonder and openness, in spite of the difficulties that one encounters.
This passage particularly reflects the spirit of the book:
Ce souvenir explique certainement pourquoi je ne quitte jamais un endroit avec plus d’une valise. J’emporte seulement des livres avec moi. Le reste ne réussit jamais à devenir véritablement mien. Je dors aussi bien dans le lit d’un hôtel, d’une chambre d’amis ou d’un inconnu que dans mon propre lit. En fait, je suis toujours heureuse de déménager, ainsi j’ai l’occasion d’alléger mes biens, de délaisser certains objets afin que ma mémoire puisse devenir réellement sélective, qu’elle puisse se souvenir uniquement des images qui restent lumineuses derrière les paupières fermées. Je préfère me souvenir de mes chatouillements intérieurs, de mes étourdissements, de mes chavirements, de mes hésitations, de mes changements, de mes manquements… Je les préfère puisque je peux les modeler selon la couleur du temps, alors qu’un objet reste inflexible, figé, encombrant.
This remembrance certainly explains why I never leave a place with more than one suitcase. I only bring books. The rest never really becomes mine. I sleep just was well in a hotel bed, in a friend’s and even a stranger’s guestroom as in my own bed. In fact, I am always happy to move; this way I have an occasion to sort through belongings, to let some go so that my memory can really becomes selective, so that it can only retain images that illuminate the inside of my closed eyelids. I prefer to remember my internal tickles, my silliness, my passions, my hesitations, my turnarounds, my shortcomings… I prefer those memories because I can mold them according to my current mood, whereas objects are solid, rooted, cumbersome. (My translation)
Kim Thúy is a well-loved author and public figure in Québec. She has one of the longest lineups for book signings at the last Montreal book fair.
Thúy, Kim. Ru. Libre expression, Montréal, 2009.