Shelagh's Summer Specials: Kim Thuy

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Shelagh Rogers interviewed many fabulous authors this past season on The Next Chapter. Every now and then, she would have a conversation so compelling, juicy, riveting or fascinating that it deserved more time than the radio show could allow. So, The Next Chapter has offered up extended versions of those conversations as special webisodes and podcasts.

Every Thursday in July and August, CBC Books will bring you Shelagh's Summer Specials, an encore presentation of those great full-length conversations.

Shelagh's Summer Special this week is her conversation with Kim Thuy about her novel Ru. Ru is a series of short, powerful vignettes that weave back and forth through time and place. An edited version of this interview originally aired on the April 30, 2011, episode.

We hope you enjoy!

You can hear The Next Chapter on CBC Radio One every Monday at 1 p.m. and Saturday at 4 p.m. (a half hour later in Newfoundland).


On its book sleeve, Kim Thuy's novel Ru is described as "a lullaby for Vietnam and a love letter to a new homeland." A series of short, powerful vignettes that move back and forth through time and place, Ru begins after the fall of Vietnam and tells the story of one woman's journey from a comfortable home in Saigon to a crowded refugee camp in Malaysia, and finally to a new home in small-town Quebec. Ru is considered fiction, but author Thuy took the same journey as her protagonist.

When asked to categorize the book, Thuy couldn't. "I guess I'm a very confused girl," she laughed. In fact, Thuy believes "it's not a book because it's so tiny. It's only 140 pages." 

Moreover, those pages are sparsely populated. This lack of categorization and lack of density was purposeful on Thuy's part. "My first observation was to play with words. It wasn't to write a story," she told The Next Chapter host Shelagh Rogers. 

And when she decided to take the notes she had written down between shifts at the restaurant she worked at and turn them into something more, Thuy deliberately cut the prose significantly. "Every single paragraph that you see, there had been three or four pages there. My work was to take out whatever was not needed." Thuy did this to strengthen the story but also to push herself as a writer. "it was a humility lesson for someone like me, who loved words, to take them out and to just throw them away."


When Thuy was writing, she let herself blend together fact and fiction -- deleting historical events and blending characters together. "I gave myself the freedom to just rely on the freedom of my memory," she said."Is it fiction? I don't know."

Thuy's journey to become a writer was just as fragmented as the book she produced. By the time she was 10 years old, she had lived in "a country at war, then a country in chaos because of the transition, then a refugee camp" before coming to a small town in Quebec. When her family arrived here, they felt it was a fresh start: literally and figuratively. The town welcomed them with open arms in the midst of a very Canadian winter. "When we arrived here, at the airport, there was snow everywhere," she said. "It's funny to say but that whiteness gave us a sense of purity and virginity."

Thuy's family took whatever jobs they could find to make ends meet, and she grew up with the same strong work ethic. She became a lawyer, then a chef, and subsequently opened her own restaurant. When the restaurant closed, Thuy's husband forced her to take a month off to contemplate what she really wanted to do. "That was a very difficult question for me to answer," she said. "As an immigrant you don't ask yourself that question. You just take whatever jobs come to you." Out of boredom, she began organizing her notes about her life and journey during this time. When the month was up, Thuy decided to give herself a year and see where her writing would take her.

Ru was published in 2009 in French and became a runaway hit in Quebec. It won a slew of awards, including the Governor General's Literary Award for French-language fiction. Thanks to a translation by award-winning translator Sheila Fischman, English Canadians can also learn about Thuy's journey.

"I never felt that I arrived here as an immigrant. I arrived here almost like an adoptive child," she said. "I loved this country from minute number one."

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