The Next Chapter·Proust questionnaire

Kim Thúy shares her greatest fear and her idea of perfect happiness

The celebrated author of the novels Ru and Vi answers the Proust questionnaire.
Kim Thúy is a Vietnamese-born Canadian author. Her debut novel, Ru, won the Canada Reads 2015. (Penguin Random House/Benoit Levac)

When Kim Thúy was 10 years old, she and her family fled Saigon by boat during the communist takeover. They stayed in a refugee camp in Malaysia and later settled in Quebec. Her family experience has found its way into her novels about dislocation and the aches of adapting to a new life. Her debut novel Ru won the Governor General's Literary Award for French-language fiction and the English translation won Canada Reads 2015, when it was defended by Cameron Bailey. Her latest novel, Vi, was published in English this spring.

Below, Thúy answers The Next Chapter's version of the Proust questionnaire.

Name your favourite writers.

"Marguerite Duras and, more recently, Ocean Vuong. He's a 25-year-old poet from the U.S. and he just won the T.S. Eliot Prize for his first book of poems. He writes about war, love and his love for his parents. But the way he describes situations and images allows me to feel every single word. It's sensorial more than intellectual. I cried from the first page to the last."

Tell me about your favourite character in fiction.

"All of Marguerite Duras's women. They are all from a very specific era, probably from colonial times in Indochina. They always have a different view of reality. I like the way they see the world and their own reality. They're all a little strange and they live lives I would like to live."

On what occasions do you lie?

"When I write. I think we should allow ourselves to lie when we write in order to tell a story — a readable story."

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

"When you lose your dignity. When you have to bend down and pick up food that had been thrown on the ground for you. We're grateful to have food given to us, but every time we have to bend down to pick up that food as a refugee, we die a little. We lose a little bit of that humanity that we have inside."

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

"Happiness is inside me — I was born with that gene. Actually, I think I'm condemned to happiness because I don't know how to not be happy. It's a state or condition more than a thing. Being happy is to be content with anything that comes along."

What is your greatest fear?

"Everything! My mom has always known I'm someone who is weak. She would tell me that when I'm scared, that's exactly the moment I should go forward and meet the monster that is scaring me. She said that if I move forward and get close enough to the monster, I would only see parts of the monster; if I only see parts of the monster, I wouldn't recognize it as a monster anymore."

Kim Thúy's comments have been edited and condensed.