Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Published November 2012
Ru is written as a kind of stream of consciousness, series of vignettes of the life to date of a woman born in Vietnam who emigrated to Canada via Malaysia as a refugee when she was 10. It’s based on the life of the author but fictionalized somewhat. She writes very short “chapters” about various memories and events in her life and those of her extended family both from her new life in Canada, her childhood in Saigon and her return visit to Vietnam as an adult.
She brings to the reader all the exquisite descriptions of her life, both good and bad, the horrors and fears of being a refugee, escaping from her home in a boat with nothing, to life in the refugee camp, and each page leads her to another scene, another memory, sometimes related, sometimes not. For instance, she describes the women soup sellers on the streets, soup being a common breakfast in Vietnam, and then to Canada where as a child, her school teacher did not believe her when she said she had soup for breakfast. The story does not follow a direct timeline, but jumps back and forth as you would when you were thinking of one thing that reminded you of something else.
If often felt like the vignettes were described with less emotion than you might have expected, but always with beauty even when what she describes was harsh and ugly. But she writes from the heart when it comes to the fierce love she has for her children.
It reminds me in a way of a personal journal. As you write, you think of something else and write that down and that sends you on a tangent elsewhere. It isn’t a story as such, it’s a series of snapshots that, together, paint a picture of a life and a family.
The author learned French and English when she came to Canada and wrote this in French. It’s been translated superbly into English which slots into one of my Bingo challenge squares nicely. This book also won the Canada Reads competition in 2015.