Books·My Life in Books

Kim Thuy's life in books

Here are the five books (and one series) that shaped the Canada Reads author's life as a Quebecer, as a lover of literature and a writer.
Kim Thúy is a Vietnamese-Canadian writer. (Penguin Random House/Benoit Levac)

Montreal author Kim Thúy was a Canada Reads contender in 2015 for her unflinching and poetic first novel, Ru. Cameron Bailey championed Ru to victory that year. 

Here are the five books (and one series) that shaped Kim Thúy's life as a Quebecer, as a lover of literature, and as a writer.

The Lover by Marguerite Duras

"When I was 14 I read The Lover and I fell in love with literature. My uncle — who's only 7 years older than me — heard about this book. Vietnam had a very dark image in our minds when we left, and Duras looks at it from a very different point of view. We were dirt poor when my uncle and I went out to buy this book. It was $15, and we knew that $15 could feed the whole family in Vietnam for at least two weeks. So the guilt was horrible. But we went and bought it. When we got home, my uncle read every single sentence to me to explain why this book was so beautiful. And I learned it by heart from the first line to the last line. Then I started speaking like Duras! There I was in high school, surrounded by all these high school students. Instead of saying, 'Why are you so bummed out?' I was like, 'But your face is devastated!'" 

East of the West by Miroslav Penkov

"I found this book in Bath, England, in the most beautiful bookstore in Bath, and possibly the world. I never bring any souvenirs back from trips, but always books. Each book will remind me of a place.I saw this part immediately and really loved it. It's in a story about this old man by the bed of his very old, sick wife — 'I watch her face, her wrinkled skin, her crooked lips, and I can't help but think that she's pretty, still. A man ought to be able to undress his wife from all the years until she lies before him naked in youth again.' The rest of the book didn't keep me going, so I didn't read the rest of it, but that little bit was enough. That was just perfect." 

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

"I read The Things They Carried in the 1990s. Again, it was my uncle who suggested I read it. Without that book, I wouldn't have been able to write Ru. It's about the Vietnam War but it's written very differently from a typical war book. He describes the soldiers walking, and the comrade in front of you would step on a mine. And as soon as the friend lifted up his foot, he would be split into a million pieces. But there's that split second before, where he's pushed up by the pressure. And he would be flying for that very split second, and at that moment, he's like an angel standing in mid-air. Tim O'Brien taught me to see and describe that moment of beauty. Which makes the atrocity even more powerful." 

The Tuner of Silences by Mia Couto

"I read this book again and again. The book is about a father who's lost his wife and suffers from it so much that he takes his two sons and decides to live in the desert, far away from any other humans. He doesn't allow his children to dream, because dreams never come true. The older brother has hidden a map and is dreaming of the day when he'll leave. The little brother knows about it. And then when the father discovers the map, he tears it up. And the little brother describes it being like rivers and mountains spilling out onto the floor. Every sentence is an image like that."

Harlequin romances

"When I moved here, I knew some French from my schooling in Vietnam, but very little of what I really needed. 'Le souris est sur la table. Le souris est sous la table.' What good is that? A neighbour gave us a box of books that contained a lot of Harlequins. It's always the same story, and the same words keep coming back. I'm very happy that this is how I learned the language." 

An Atlas of Impossible Longing by Anuradha Roy

"I haven't even read it. But what a title!"


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