"...My parents often remind my brothers and me that they won't have any money for us to inherit, but I think they've already passed on to us the wealth of their memories, allowing us to grasp the beauty of a flowering wisteria, the delicacy of a word, the power of wonder. Even more, they've given us feet for walking to our dreams, to infinity...."
Ru is autobiographical, a collection of stories based somewhat on Kim Thuy's life; from a small child living in a well to do family in Saigon, to a refugee in a camp in Malaysia, to a new life in Canada. Told in the voice of Nguyen An Tinh, each page presents a memory from childhood or adulthood or a recounting of some event experienced by someone who touched the narrator's life.
Nguyen An Tinh tells the story of her family, from their life in Vietnam during the war, their escape on a boat to a refugee camp in Malaysia, and their new life in Granby, Quebec. Born in Saigon, during the Tet offensive, Nguyen's family was well off, living in a large home, until the Communists overran the southern half of the country, and came to occupy her family's home. The contents were inventoried and eventually removed. Nguyen's family escaped Vietnam on an overcrowded boat that landed in Malaysia, where they spent time in a refugee camp, awaiting immigration to a new life in Canada.
Some vignettes portray the realities of life in South Vietnam for a large family; the numbering of siblings and relations, the devotion and respect of the younger generation towards their elders, and the merging of Chinese and Vietnamese families.
Other memories reveal the horrors of the Vietnam war; both personal tragedies and the tragedies other Vietnamese experienced. There are the abandoned children of American GI's, the occupation of the family home by members of the Communist government; the heroics of neighbour Anh Phi and his mother, who found Nguyen's family's lost diamonds so they could pay their passage out of Vietnam.
Flashbacks reveal a childhood in Granby, Quebec where her mother sent her to a military garrison of cadets to master the English language, where a friend Johanne took her to movies, and where she and her family learned the ways of a different culture in a land made beautiful by never-before-seen snow.
Interposed with all of these are present reflections of Nguyen's life as the mother of two boys, Pascal and Henri and her struggle to cope with Henri's autism.
Ru juxtaposes past with present, moving seamlessly between the two, often linking the vignettes with a word or idea. The voice of Nguyen is muted but still manages to convey the horror of war, the dislocation and loss of a way of life, and the struggles to begin again in a strange new land.. In this way Ru is not just a telling of Kim Thuy's experiences but also has relevance to other "boat people" who escaped Vietnam.
Author Kim Thuy discusses Ru in this short interview:
Originally published in French and winner of the Governor General's Award, Ru is a poetic read that will stir the hearts of readers, especially those of us who remember the arrival of the "boat people" in our communities almost forty years ago.
Ru by Kim Thuy
Random House Canada 2009