Q·Q with Tom Power

How a Vietnam War era photo inspired Kim Thúy's novel Em

Em is rooted in the events of the Vietnam War – and it shines a light on those forgotten and unnamed people, the collateral damage of war.

The Canadian author is longlisted for the world’s richest literary prize, the Dublin Literary Award

Black and white head shot of Kim Thúy. Book cover of Thúy's novel Em.
Em is a novel by Kim Thúy, translated by Sheila Fischman. (Carl Lessard, Penguin Random House Canada)

Kim Thúy's latest novel, Em, is dedicated to the forgotten and unnamed, delving into the Vietnam War and its devastating impact across borders and generations.

The acclaimed Vietnamese-born Canadian author was a child in Vietnam during the war. In 1978, three years after the last American troops left, Thúy and her family fled the country as refugees with other so-called "boat people."

A baby girl lying in a cardboard box touches the hand of her older brother lying next to her on the streets of Saigon, Vietnam.
A baby girl, named Tran Thie Het Nhanny, lying in a cardboard box next to her brother, who begged on the streets of Saigon, Vietnam in 1973. (Chick Harrity)

Along with her parents and two brothers, Thúy eventually settled in Quebec, where she became a lawyer, a restaurateur and then a writer with her work translated into 15 languages.

Her debut novel, Ru, drew on her life as a young refugee in Quebec. It won the Governor General's Award for French-language fiction in 2010 as well as the 2015 edition of Canada Reads, among many other honours.

Now, Em is on the longlist for the richest literary prize in the world, the Dublin Literary Award. She joined Tom Power from Montreal to share how a Vietnam War era photo inspired her to write the novel.

The full interview with Kim Thúy is available on our podcast, Q with Tom Power. Listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

Interview with Kim Thúy produced by Jennifer Warren.