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message 1: by Diane , Armchair Tour Guide (last edited Aug 01, 2020 11:54AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Diane  | 12958 comments Start discussion here for Ru by Kim Thúy.

About the Book (from the publisher)

At ten years old, Kim Thúy fled Vietnam on a boat with her family, leaving behind a grand house and the many less tangible riches of their home country: the ponds of lotus blossoms, the songs of soup-vendors. The family arrived in Quebec, where they found clothes at the flea market, and mattresses with actual fleas. Kim learned French and English, and as she grew older, seized what opportunities an immigrant could; she put herself through school picking vegetables and sewing clothes, worked as a lawyer and interpreter, and later as a restaurateur. She was married and a mother when the urge to write struck her, and she found herself scribbling words at every opportunity - pulling out her notebook at stoplights and missing the change to green. The story emerging was one of a Vietnamese émigré on a boat to an unknown future: her own story fictionalized and crafted into a stunning novel.

The novel's title, Ru, has meaning in both Kim's native and adoptive languages: in Vietnamese, ru is a lullaby; in French, a stream. And it provides the perfect name for this slim yet potent novel. With prose that soothes and sings, Ru weaves through time, flows and transports: a river of sensuous memories gathering power. It's a classic immigrant story told in a breathtaking new way.

About the Author

Kim Thúy was born in Saigon and arrived in Quebec at age ten in 1978, with the first wave of boat people from Vietnam. She has degrees from the University of Montreal in linguistics and translation and in law, and she has worked as a seamstress, interpreter, translator, lawyer, and restaurateur. Thúy lives in Montreal, where she now devotes herself to writing. This is her first novel.

Discussion Questions

1. The novel’s title, Ru, has different meanings in both the author’s native and adoptive languages: in Vietnamese, ru is a lullaby; in French, a stream. How do these two different meanings play out during the course of the book?

2. Thúy has chosen to tell her story in short vignettes, often linked by subject rather than chronology. What do you think her reasoning might be for choosing this form over a more traditional narrative arc?

3. The narrator reveals in the first pages of Ru that her name is a variation of her mother’s, that she was supposed to be her mother’s extension and sequel, but that this role ended when she was ten years old (2). Why and how does her relationship to her mother change?

4. The narrator describes herself in childhood as being her cousin Sao Mai’s “shadow” (18). What does she mean? What are some of the other times in her life when she feels like a shadow?

5. About the Communist child inspectors living in her family’s home, the narrator writes: “We no longer knew if they were enemies or victims, if we loved or hated them, if we feared or pitied them. And they no longer knew if they had freed us from the Americans, or, on the contrary, if we had freed them from the jungle of Vietnam” (32). How does the narrator’s up-is-down-and-down-is-up war experience continue to color her views toward her homeland and its people throughout the course of her life?

6. Constant movement is one of Ru’s themes. At one point, the narrator writes, “I never leave a place with more than one suitcase . . . Nothing else can become truly mine” (100). Why do you think she believes this? Do you think it is true for her?

7. In, Vietnamese, the narrator tells us, there are different words for different ways of loving (96). But the narrator says it is her children who define for her what it means simply “to love” (102). How do you think her love for her children is different from what she feels for her parents, relatives, or lovers?

8. The narrator describes an incident at restaurant school in Hanoi when a waiter reminded her that she “no longer had the right to declare that [she] was Vietnamese because [she] no longer had their fragility, their uncertainty, their fears” (78). The narrator seems to believe he was right; do you?

9. Music appears throughout the book in various forms and situations: the music the narrator’s father plays on the piano to corrupt the child inspectors; the Fame theme song Johanne teaches her to sing; the music her middle-aged mother dances to in her weekly dance classes; the melodies the strolling merchants sing while advertising their basket wares. What is music’s importance in Ru?

10. The American Dream plays an integral role in the narrator’s life and her search for meaning, and she references it often during the novel. What is her version of the American Dream? Do you think she attains it?

11. The narrator speaks of the Vietnamese women permanently hunched by the weight of their grief (39). To what extent do you think she identifies with those women ?

12. Many aspects of this novel are clearly autobiographical, but the author classifies it as fiction. Why do you think Thúy chose to write the book she did, rather than a straight memoir?

message 2: by George P. (last edited Aug 10, 2020 07:50AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

George P. | 74 comments Sounds pretty interesting, and my library has the Ebook for kindle. Also I haven't yet read any writers from Vietnam, so I believe I'll read this one as my next start. Will try to post again in a couple weeks.

08/10 PS: I've finished a couple other books now and just got this one.

message 3: by George P. (last edited Aug 27, 2020 09:31AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

George P. | 74 comments It's a shame no one else seems to be reading or at least posting on this novella. I finished a couple days ago, and I enjoyed reading it.I was able to check out the ebook from the library for kindle.
It is really a collection of connected vignettes in the main character's transition from her family's flight from Vietnam at the end of the war to living in Canada, and a bit on her life as an adult Vietnamese-Canadian. It reads pretty fast so that it could be read in a couple days, but I preferred to take a couple weeks, a little at a time.
I couldn't figure out how the story related to the title's Vietnamese meaning of a lullaby. The French meaning of a flow or stream clearly can be metaphor for the passage of time and events.
I'm really not sure why the author wrote it as a novella rather than as a nonfiction account of her own life. Perhaps writing as nonfiction she would have felt compelled to tell things about her life that she preferred not to.

message 4: by Frances (new)

Frances (francesperez) | 1 comments Hi George. This book looks really interesting, so I put it on my TBR list. I finished reading On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous recently by another Vietnamese author which was so well written. If you haven’t read it yet, you might want to. When I do get around to reading Ru, I’ll post my feedback here and hopefully you’ll get notified and reply 🤗.

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