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The Boat

3.59  ·  Rating details ·  3,848 Ratings  ·  547 Reviews
A dazzling, emotionally riveting debut collection: the seven stories in Nam Le’s The Boat take us across the globe as he enters the hearts and minds of characters from all over the world.

Whether Nam Le is conjuring the story of 14-year-old Juan, a hit man in Colombia; or an aging painter mourning the death of his much-younger lover; or a young refugee fleeing Vietnam, cram
Hardcover, 271 pages
Published December 1st 2008 by Canongate Books (first published 2008)
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I was delighted to find this book of well-written short stories by Aussie author Nam Le, who arrived here by boat as a refugee from Vietnam when he was only one.

These eight stories are all quite different from each other and Le speaks in many voices from different countries, all believable: Vietnamese, Colombian, Japanese, Iranian, Australian.

I think my favourite is the young Aussie lad in the fishing family with the sick mum. Football, a girl, bullies, a jetty, a struggling dad and younger
Jun 12, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
*sigh* Where do I even begin with what went wrong with this book. It started off so well. Certain scenes are so well described that I was really invested as a reader. However, I hate the way he ends each story... or rather, doesn't.

The first story felt like a good introduction chapter to a novel, except it's not a novel it was just a short story on its own. In turn it made the story have a horrible ending with a quick sum-up of what the character understood from the events in a few sentences.

Jun 24, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I have to admit, I am still ten pages from finishing this book, but I can't do it anymore! With the exception of the first story, this book bored me to tears. I give it two starts instead of one, because Le is a great writer. At fear of sounding like a literary agent, I will still say that I couldn't relate to any of these characters or their lives. And this is because the writer didn't make it easy for me to relate to them. Le is an excellent writer, but a horrilbe story teller. He never drew m ...more
Dec 27, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Faulkner, you know," my friend said over the squeals, "he said we should write the old verities. Love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice."

This quote is planted square in the middle of Nam Le's opening story, a metafictional conceit that allows the author to address the reader directly about how ethnicity and the immigrant experience can both confer a special status on an author while also becoming a crutch, hobbling his imagination.

That's precisely what I admire so much a
Jan 27, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
like Bon Iver's debut album of last year this book proves that sweet art will make its way when it's at it's least eager. a quiet, brilliant idyll. each story sent me on a one hour walk around the canyons. the first one and the last one were my favourites and 'halflead' could've been a winton short from 'the turning'. im officially jealous of this vietnamese australian master-craftsman.
Aug 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
These are quite simply some of the most amazing stories I have ever read. I am not typically an avid fan of short stories. I typically find them little more than character sketches (like E. Annie Proulx's Postcards) or short scenes that are surely a part of a greater whole but simply leave me with a literary hole. But Nam Le has done something amazing with most of his stories -- they smack of realism, the characters are full, the stories hold up on their own and are not just false starts of nove ...more
Dec 28, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
No, I haven't finished this book in the traditional sense, but for now I think I'm done with it. Before going any further I want to say that the author is good. In fact Very good. Many times I found myself wishing I could write with such depth, such empathy. The first three stories in this collection I really enjoyed. The latter three for some reason lost my interest. Anyway, the issue is not with the author but with me. I didn't have the patience to appreciate it.
I hope one day to do Nam Le jus
James Barker
7 stories. 7 decades. The US. Colombia. Japan. Iran. Vietnam. Somewhere in the mix the voices break, voices merge… this Aussie writer of Vietnamese origin needs to narrow his horizons.

The stories are book-ended by the two that are concerned with the Vietnamese condition during and after the War. They have varying levels of success, although the first ('Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice' - a quote from Faulkner) wins out in its consideration of what should be utilised
Aug 28, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Why did I give one star? But before I say anything with regards to the rating that I gave, I want to summarize this book by magnifying the things that I think signify each short story in it.

1. The Blazing Gasoline Drum for Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice
2. Grenade for Cartagena
3. The Concert Hall for Meeting Elise
4. Home for Halflead Bay
5. Letter & Planes for Hiroshima
6. Candle for Tehran Calling
7. Sharks for The Boat

If you want to know why did I choose the li
Nicholas Buzanski
The Boat is a breathtaking & heartbreaking work of literary genius. Each of Nam Le's stories are a world so completely real & realized that they feel like a living, breathing being. His understanding of human emotions know no boundaries of age, race, country or gender & is only overshadowed by the beauty & mastery of Le's writing. For those who do not read short stories, please do not let that stop you from picking up this book; each story is a novel in itself. The intensity of c ...more
Mar 10, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow! Beautiful. Disturbing. I just read an Advanced Reader's Copy of this book and was particularly impressed by Le's ability to create characters that all convincingly inhabit so many different landscapes and cultures. I was expecting a more specific cultural tone or flavor from this book--but the stories and persepctives are radically different, and are able to stand alone as their own worlds, which to me signals an astounding stylistic range--clearly the writer could have stuck with just one ...more
Dec 20, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: immigrant-lit
THE first story in this debut collection by Australian writer Nam Le, 29, has the wonderfully bombastic title Love And Honor And Pity And Pride And Compassion And Sacrifice. A catalogue of the "old verities" Faulkner urged writers to write about, it suggests that all storytelling should go back to some fundamental, universal truth about the human condition.

This search for the fundamental takes centrestage in a story that also serves a dual purpose as the introduction this collection by Le, the f
Nov 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It takes me four years to thoroughly finish this book.
I read the first story four years ago and love this author since then. People in the west tend to consider Le as an immigrant writer because of his unusual personal history. They consider all those exotic stories fantastic and people born and raised like this somehow have the duty to write about these things, people they'll never meet, lives they'll never live and burdens they'll never carry. It makes sense that people tend to be curious abo
May 25, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
The seven stories in Boat, all interesting, almost all superb, a compelling and very impressive first collection by Nam Le, made me think of In Our Time and The Dubliners as I read. Not quite as perfect as The Dubliners, nor as fresh and startling as In Our Time, but a collection that even as you are reading it for the first time you know you will be reading it again and again. Le, born in Vietnam, raised in Australia, and a graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, displays an interesting range w ...more
Aug 03, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2008
I'll admit it. I sort of fell in love with this book's cover as soon as I sawl it on the New Fiction table at Bailey/Coy. I hemmed and hawed, picked it up and put it down, then finally let Michiko Kakutani and Mary Gaitskill convince me to fork over the $25. What I got from these stories, initially, was a really strong McSweeney's vibe. I couldn't quite put my finger on why this was, but the feeling was sustained, and eventually I figured it out. In the first story, Le writes about a writer stru ...more
I feel like I should have enjoyed these stories much more than I did. There's no denying that Le is a talented writer able to distill a time, place and situation down to essentials but something put me off of this collection.

It begins with a meta piece about a Vietnamese American writer in the Iowa program who needs to finish his workshop story and since "ethnic literature" is popular decides to write his father's story. In other words, a story about writing a story. The actual story tells both
Dec 31, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: travel
This is a book for those who believe that well-constructed art is not just what's nice to look at, but that which effectively causes the observer to feel. It's an extraordinarily poignant collection of stories about far-flung places and times that starts with a memory of Vietnam, penetrates the dark world of Colombia's slums, and accompanies an adolescent boy in a remote Australian fishing village as he navigates the dichotomous journeys of losing his mother and experiencing his first love. It w ...more
Dec 22, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Muốn mở đầu năm mới bằng một quyển 5 sao cơ :((.
The boat không tệ nhưng truyện ngắn không phải sở thích của mình. Lại một sai lầm bắt nguồn từ ngộ nhận. Tải quyển này về mấy năm trước sau một bài báo về các tác giả gốc Việt đang lên, và từ đó tới lúc đọc xong truyện đầu tiên vẫn nghĩ nó là tiểu thuyết về thuyền nhân Việt Nam. Thì ra không phải, không hề, dù có tí tẹo liên quan.
Đọc quyển này cứ cảm giác như người bị sốt cao hôn mê, đang bị ai đó rượt đuổi trong cơn mê sảng, phải đối mặt với đủ
Mar 17, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
great scenes and some muscular, resonant narrative building, but just couldn't get into this. i think i need more careful language than this offered, and i got irritated by the self-absorbed, "masculinist" voice in some pieces which left me looking for a foothold into the story. also, i just don't understand why the pieces needed to range all over the friggin' globe. i mean, what made this cohere as a collection? (i guess i need to muster the patience to read the whole thing through . . . .) see ...more
Sep 05, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had heard good things about this book and then picked up a copy at the home of a misguided amorosa and started reading. Straight away I thought damn, this cat can really write! The amorosa ended badly, though I did get a short story out of it, which I dictated into my Nokia later on the steps of the Newtown schule. Through all the regrets I still couldn't get Nam Le's beautiful prose out of my mind (everything happens for a reason perhaps?) so I finally bought it. Let's hope the majesty of the ...more
Dec 31, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The last book of short stories I remember staying with me this way was Jhumpa Lahiri's _Interpreter of Maladies_ and only on a second read. And, in the same way I felt inclined to weigh her stories against one another, I do the same in looking at Le's book. While not all of the stories in Nam Le's book prove to me to be of equal caliber to one another, I appreciate the type and variety of character detail he has managed to achieve in several of the stories. His longer stories do this better than ...more
Mar 02, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Beyond the opening story, this is a fairly forgettable collection. After the third story it became a chore to read and after the dreadful Halflead Bay it became a penance to even look at the thing.

The writer definitely has skill and - I believe - a bright future, but it seemed to me that he still is developing his talent. Despite not really enjoying this collection, I will keep an eye out for future work from him.
Clare Cannon
Sep 21, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: adults
A novel made up of seven personal stories of immigrants from different times and places and religious backgrounds, all of which involve significant physical and moral suffering. The stories do not resolve, which leaves the reader in sombre - perhaps confused - contemplation. There is frequent bad language, and several of the stories have rough and graphic sensual description.
Jan 29, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was really quite an amazing book from a young first time author. He managed to capture the different cultural voices of his characters in his stories so well. Whilst sometimes confronting and depressing the stories were definately believable and clearly drawn from his own experiences as a migrant/boat person.
It’s well-known in the writing and publishing industry that the reading public is far more interested in buying novels than short story collections. When I worked in a bookstore in 2011, Nam Le’s The Boat was the only story anthology – not the only Australian story anthology, the only story anthology full stop – that I recall ever selling any copies of whatsoever. And it was three years old at the time! It’s a sad piece of anecdotal evidence for the popularity of the short story, but a very nice ...more
Thomas Cooney
Dec 24, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Bought this when it first came out as I was at the time running an MFA Program and often looked for young and up-and-coming writers to visit and/or teach. Hired great established writers such as Michael Chabon, Sue Miller, Lynn Freed, and gave early and sometimes first teaching gigs to people like Andrew Sean Greer, Junot Diaz, Josh Braff. I gave up halfway through the first story. Bored to tears. I picked up the book again because I am going to spend New Years Eve in Cartagena and I had remembe ...more
june rasul
Mar 17, 2009 is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to june by: the new york times
I've never been fond of short stories - I never quite knew what the point was. Why not spin me a whole yarn?

Only once before have I encountered a short story (non-academically) that sort of ... punched me in the gut - the first story in Julie Orringer's collection.

Nam Le's stories don't punch me in the gut that way, with the big ending I never saw coming, or whatever. They leave me with a heaviness, in a good way.

I must admit I start off every story wondering how he's going to convince me I'm
Jun 12, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2008
Good God! This is such amazing writing, well-edited and incredibly expansive while remaining grounded. The best collection of short stories I have read since The Interpreter of Maladies.
Sidenote: I only picked this up because I was listening to Write On Radio on KFAI, and he was being interviewed. His insights into the craft and practice of writing as well as his thoughts on the author's role in fiction were totally fascinating, so much so that I went to his book reading that night! It was all v
Karen Hogg
Sep 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
How diverse is this author? Reading Nam Le's collection of short stories is like reading a collation of various authors. The only disappointment about this book is that each short story comes to an end. The topics are diverse, from child soliders in columbia to teenagers in a small beachside town in Australia, and each story is good enough to be a novel in itself. A bit like having one tiny taste of great quality chocolate and you want a whole row! Love to read more from this author, he is a tru ...more
Nov 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: adult
This terrific book of short stories should win awards this year. The stories are so well written that I visualized all the characters and scenes without being aware of detailed descriptions. Although the author is originally Vietnamese, the stories are set in a variety of countries. Many have teens as major characters so it would be interesting to see what a mature teen thought of the collection.
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Nam Le came to Australia from Vietnam with his parents, when he was less than a year old, as a boat refugee. He went to Melbourne Grammar School and the University of Melbourne, from where he graduated with a BA (Hons) and LLB (Hons). His Arts thesis supervisor was the Australian poet Chris Wallace-Crabbe. He worked as a corporate lawyer and was admitted to the Supreme Court of Victoria in 2003/20 ...more
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“The thing is not to write what no one else has written but to write what only you could have written.'
I found this fragment in my old notebooks. The person who wrote that couldn't have known what would happen: how a voice hollows how words you once loved can wither on a page.”
“You couldn't think of after, you only thought of now, and come to think of it, you didn't do that either -- you were left with pools of memory, each stranded from the next by time pulling forward like a tide.” 2 likes
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