Excerpt from the autobiography of Kim Thuy "Roo"

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Excerpt from the autobiography of Kim Thuy "Roo"
Excerpt from the autobiography of Kim Thuy "Roo"

In the middle of October 2012, an exquisite novel appeared on the Bulgarian literary market, imbued with a warm sense of humor and drama: the autobiographical book " Ру ' by Vietnamese-Canadian writer Kim Thuy.

Kolibri publishing house hastens to please you with the news that the writer's visit to Bulgaria is coming! Visits are scheduled for the following cities and dates:

November 13 – Sofia

November 14 – Plovdiv

"Roo" tells the dramatic story of the author, who is forced to leave her luxurious home and native country because of the North Vietnamese raids. Together with her family, she ends up in an intolerable refugee camp, and later finds permanent refuge in Quebec.

Kim Thuy was born in Saigon, left for Canada when she was only 10 years old - in 1979. Graduated in law in Montreal, practiced various classes, later devoted herself entirely to writing. Roux, her debut novel, won five prestigious awards. This is a book about a life of ebb and flow – a sea of political upheaval and crystal calm, of personal struggles and unforgettable memories. As subtle as it is a shocking read, containing both pain and laughter, cruelty and comfort - all the absurd beauty of a life's journey.

More about the book

Kim Thuy's autobiographical debut novel describes the fateful separation of a relatively peaceful childhood marred by the Vietnam War. After many harsh and curious vicissitudes, Kim and her family find refuge in Quebec, the hospitable Canadian province.

The people she meets on her way, the situations she finds herself in – both tragic and funny and ridiculous and shocking, her family with numerous aunts and uncles – who is more colorful than whom, the men in life her, her sons - one of whom is autistic, the immense motherly love, the love for her native country, where she was sung lullabies, the gratitude to the country that accepted her, which "ceases to be a geographical place and becomes a lullaby" - all this is described with warmth, attention to detail and a subtle sense of humor to give birth to a text full of drama and poetry.

Stylish, highly reflective in content and intriguing in form, the novel itself is an ambitious journey. "Rue" is a poetic and markedly individual study, subject to the question: what happens when, in a very short period, you have to adapt to different cultures and identities.

The Awards

"Rue" has been awarded five prizes: two from Quebec - the Grand Archambault Literary Prize and the Governor General's Prize of Quebec; two French – the Audience Award of the Book Salon and the Grand Prix of RTL radio and Lear magazine; and an Italian one - the "Mondello" International Award.


“This is an exemplary novel. There is not a trace of narcissism or self-pity in him. The large-scale events surrounding a conflict-torn Vietnam are delicately depicted through the daily experiences of a woman who must reinvent her life. A tragic journey, told modestly, sensitively and shockingly at the same time.“

(from the text at the presentation of the Award of the Governor General of Quebec)

“Dazzling, passionate, unique in its delicacy… A remarkable book; a book that deserves every note of the praise reaped so far”

(Chronicle Journal)

“Powerful and binding… Neat, lyrical chapters, powerfully affecting with their tenderness, humor, bitterness and wisdom. "Rue" mixes history and politics, a celebration of life and violence - all reflected through the experiences of a young girl. Her voice murmurs like a brook that foams and spills in enchanting polyphony to turn chaos and pain into a love song.”

(Winnipeg Free Press)

“In a series of sketches that begin with the situation in Vietnam and subsequently transport us to the cozy surroundings of Quebec, Kim Thuy writes with equal sincerity and subtlety about his childhood marked by horrific brutality, but also about the pleasures of the simple, peaceful life. A brave, poignant and insightful book, illuminating truths about the cost of violence and the elusive process of personal self-preservation".

(Eva Hoffman, author of Lost in Translation)

Kim Thuy on his novel Roo and immigrant life:

Kim Thuy talks about his debut book and his memories of that unforgettable transition from a lovely home in Saigon, South Vietnam, to a crowded and muddy Malaysian refugee camp, and later to the Canadian province of Quebec, playing the role of Resurrection. The author focuses on the hospitality of the community she finds herself in, as well as the comfort and joy of "merging" with the American Dream.


My name is Nguyen Anh Thu N and my mother is Nguyen Anh Tin. The dot under the "i" is the only thing that distinguishes me, sets me apart, separates me from her. My name is just a variant of hers, including in meaning. In Vietnamese, hers means "peaceful surroundings" and mine means "peaceful interior". By giving it to me, she announced her intention to make me her mark, a continuation of her story.

The Great History, that of Vietnam, thwarted my mother's plans. Thirty years ago, while we were crossing the Gulf of Thailand, she threw the strokes and points into the sea. It has stripped our names of their meaning and reduced them to quaint foreign sounds in the French language. And most of all, when I turned ten, my role as a natural extension of my mother ended.

Thanks to exile, my children were never an extension of me, nor an extension of my story. Their names are Pascal and Henri and they don't look like me. Their hair is fair, their skin white, and their eyelashes thick. I didn't experience the natural motherly feeling I expected to come over me nursing them in the middle of the night, at three o'clock. My maternal instinct came out much later, during the white nights, in the cycle of dirty diapers, gratuitous smiles, sudden bursts of joy. Only then did I understand the love of the mother sitting across from me in the ship's hold, cradling her baby, whose crusty head was covered in stinking scabs. This picture stayed in front of my eyes for days and maybe even nights. In the hold, where a small light bulb hanging from a string attached to a rusty nail cast a dim light, day was no different from night. The constant lighting shielded us from the vastness of the sea and sky around us. The passengers on deck informed us that the blue of the sea had merged with the blue of the sky. So we did not know whether we were rising to the sky or sinking into the depths of the sea. In the bosom of the ship, heaven and hell had clung to each other. Paradise promised a new beginning, a new future, a new history. Hell, on the other hand, exposed our fears: the fear of pirates, of starvation, the fear of poisoning ourselves with the biscuits soaked in engine oil, the fear that we won't have enough water, that we won't be able to pull ourselves together, that we'll have to we urinate into the red pot, passed from hand to hand, that the child's scabbed head is contagious, that we shall never again set foot on solid ground, nor see the faces of our parents, sitting somewhere in the semi-darkness in this crowded crowd.

Before we anchored in the middle of the night off the shores of Rah Jia, most of the passengers had only feared the Communists, for whom they fled. But as soon as our ship was surrounded, enveloped by the uniform boundless blue, fear turned into a many-faced monster that mutilated our legs and prevented us from feeling the numbness of our motionless muscles. We were frozen in fear, with fear. We didn't even close our eyes when the child with the scabby head was pissing us off. We didn't turn our noses up at the neighbors. We stood stiffly, pinned by the shoulders of some, by the legs of others, by the fear of each one. We were paralyzed.

The story of the little girl who stumbled as she walked along the edge of the deck and fell into the sea, invaded the fetid bowels of the ship like an intoxicating or euphoric gas, turning the single light bulb into a pole star, and the machine-oil-soaked biscuits- in butter cookies. Clinging to our throats and tongues, nestling in our heads, their taste lulled us to sleep to the rhythm of my neighbor's lullaby.

My father carried cyankali with him to put us to sleep forever, like Sleeping Beauty, if our family was captured by communists or pirates. Many times I wanted to ask him why he decided to take away our chance to live without giving us a choice.

I stopped asking myself this question when I became a mother, when the famous Saigon surgeon Mr. Vinh told me how he had loaded his five children, from his twelve-year-old son to his five-year-old daughter, one after the other, alone, at five different ships, at different times, to send them around the wide world, away from the persecution of the communist authorities. He was sure he would die in prison, as he was accused of killing communist comrades under the pretext of operating on them, even though the latter had never set foot in his hospital. He hoped to save at least one or two of his children by releasing them into the sea. I met him on the steps of a church, where in winter he cleaned the snow and in summer he swept in gratitude to the priest who raised his five children one after the other until they were grown, until Mr. Vin was released from prison.

I didn't scream or cry when I was told that my son Henri was locked in a world of his own, when they confirmed to me that he was one of those children who couldn't hear or speak, although they weren't deaf either, nor mute. The children we must love from a distance, without touching them, nor kissing them without smiling, because the smell of our skin, the strength of our voice, the thickness of our hair, the sound of our heart can hurt their senses. Henri will probably never call me "mom," even though he can pronounce the word "mango" with all the sensuality of its nasal sound. He will never know why I cried when he smiled at me for the first time. He will not know that because of him every spark of joy is blessed, that I will never give up the fight against autism even though I know it is invincible.

From now on I am doomed, exposed and useless.

The first drifts of snow I saw from the plane as we landed at Mirabel Airport also made me feel exposed, not to say naked. I was naked in spite of the orange short-sleeved sweater I had bought in the refugee camp in Malaysia before we left for Canada, and my brown woolen vest, coarsely knitted by Vietnamese knitters. Many of the passengers clung to the windows like me, amazed, gaping. After our long stay in rooms without light, such a white, pristine landscape could only make us bewildered, blinded, intoxicated.

I was stunned by the foreign sounds that surrounded us, by the imposing ice cream sculpture that watched over the table piled high with hors d'oeuvres, nibbles and sandwiches. While I knew Canada was an amazing country full of delights, I didn't know any of the colorful delicacies. Like Henri, I could not hear, I could not speak, neither being deaf nor mute. I had lost all sense of direction, along with the ability to dream, to move into the future, to experience the present in the present moment.

My first Canadian teacher led us, the seven youngest Vietnamese children in the group, across the bridge that led to the present. She watched over our grafting, caring like a mother to a newborn septuagenarian. The slow, soothing sway of her rounded thighs and her full, perky ass mesmerized us. She was leading the way, the same mother who leads her ducklings, beckoning us to follow her to the dock, where we would become children again, just children, surrounded by colors and drawings and carefreeness. I will be forever grateful to her for giving birth to my first expat wish - to be able to roll my ass like her. None of the group possessed such luscious forms with such generous curves. All but one of us were bony, ridged, hard. When she leaned over me, put her hands on mine and said, "My name is Marie-France, and you?" I repeated her words without thinking, without feeling the need to understand them, cradled in the arms of a gentle, a fresh and fragrant cloud. Their meaning was incomprehensible to me, I could only hear the melody of her voice, but that was enough for me. Quite enough.

At home, I repeated the series of sounds to my parents: "My name is Marie-France, and you?". They asked me if I had changed my name, bringing me back to the second in reality where deafness and muteness erased dreams along with the ability to see far, far ahead.

Although they spoke French, my parents also couldn't see far ahead of them, having been kicked out of a French course only available to people with a forty-dollar-a-week salary. They were overqualified for this course but underqualified for everything else. And because they could not look in front of themselves, they looked in front of us, for us, for their children.

For the sake of the children, they turned a blind eye to wiping blackboards, scrubbing school toilets, serving spring rolls. They only saw our future. My brothers and I progressed in the furrows of their gaze. I've met parents whose sight had faded under the weight of some pirate's body or during the long years of communist re-education in the camps - not the war camps, but the post-war, peace camps.

When I was little, I thought the words "war" and "peace" were antonyms. In reality, I lived in peace while Vietnam was in flames, and war entered my being only when the guns were put down. Now I think that war and peace are most likely friends who play with us as they please. They turn us into enemies whenever they feel like it, not caring what definitions and roles we have assigned them. So perhaps we shouldn't trust what our eyes see when choosing their direction. Fortunately, my parents had managed to maintain their true outlook, regardless of the color of the weather, regardless of the present moment. My mother liked to recite the proverb written on the blackboard in Saigon when she was eight years old: Đời là hộng trộc, aức tạn là thua – “Life is a struggle where sadness leads to loss”. My mother's struggle started late, without sadness. She went to work at the age of thirty-four, first as a cleaner, then as a worker in a factory, manufacture, restaurant. In the life she had lost, she was the eldest daughter of a prefect. Her duties consisted of settling disputes between the two head chefs – one French, the other Vietnamese – serving the noble family. Or to the condemnation of secret love affairs among servants. The afternoons were spent adjusting her hair, make-up and outfit, preparing for the social parties she accompanied her father to. Thanks to her extravagant life, she could dream about everything, and especially about the future of her children. It prepared us simultaneously to be musicians, scientists, politicians, athletes, artists and polyglots. At the same time, as bombs fell and blood was shed somewhere far away, she taught us to kneel like the servants. He made me wash four tiles off the floor every day and clean up twenty sprouted beans, plucking their roots one by one. He was preparing us for the fall. And rightly so, as very soon the floor slipped from under our feet.

During the first nights we spent as refugees in Malaysia, we slept straight on the red earth, there was no floor. The Red Cross had built refugee camps in Vietnam's neighboring countries that took in so-called "ship people" who had survived the sea voyage. The others who had sunk had no name. They had died anonymously. We were among the lucky ones who reached solid ground. We felt blessed to be part of the two thousand refugees in a camp designed for two hundred.

We built a lean-to hut on a remote slope at the edge of the camp. For several weeks, twenty-five people from five different families secretly cut down trees in the nearby forest and stuck them in the soft clay soil. Then we attached six pieces of plywood on top of them, which formed an extensive floor, and finally we covered the structure with an electric blue plastic toy canvas. We were lucky enough to find enough plastic and iron rice sacks to enclose four sides of the hut and three sides of our shared bathroom. The two buildings resembled a museum installation by a contemporary artist. At night we slept so close together that we were never cold, even though we had no blankets. During the day, the blue canvas absorbed so much heat that it was impossible to breathe in the hut. On rainy days and nights, water seeped through the holes made by the leaves, twigs, and stems we hung on the hut to freshen it up.

If a choreographer had come under the canvas on such a day or such a night, he would certainly have reproduced the following scene: twenty-five standing figures, small and large, with tin cans in their hands, being filled with water, flowing from above sometimes abundantly, sometimes drop by drop. If a composer had come under the canvas, he would have heard the orchestration of the water drumming on the bottom of the cans. If a filmmaker had come under the canvas, he would have captured the beauty of the silent spontaneous solidarity of the poor. But under the canvas it was just us, standing on the floor, which was slowly sinking into the clay earth. Three months later he had leaned so far to one side that we had to position ourselves so as to prevent the women and children from slipping in their sleep onto the neighbor's belly.

Despite the nights where our dreams ran down the sloping floor, my mother continued to nurture ambitions for our future. She had found an ally in the face of an apparently naive young man who dared to show joy and carefreeness amidst the monotony of our empty everyday life. The two took an English course together. For whole mornings we repeated after him words of which we understood nothing. But we did not miss a single activity, as he managed to raise the sky and reveal before our eyes a new horizon, far from the gaping holes filled with the excrement of two thousand refugees. If it weren't for his face, it would never have occurred to us that there could be a future without disgusting smells, flies and worms. If it had not been for his face, it would never have occurred to us that one day we would no longer be eating rotten fish gathered from the ground where it was thrown every afternoon at the hour appointed for the distribution of provisions. If it weren't for his face, our desire to reach out and grab our dreams would most likely die.

Unfortunately, of all the mornings spent with the impromptu English teacher, I only remembered one sentence: My boat number is KG0338. It turned out to be completely useless, as I never had to use it, even during the medical examination that the Canadian delegation put us through. The doctor assigned to her did not even speak to me. Instead of asking me: Boy or girl? – two words that also

knew,” he just pulled the elastic on my pants. I imagine the faces of a ten-year-old boy and a ten-year-old girl must have looked awfully alike, given how skinny we were. And there was no time for talk, people were crowding on the other side of the door. It was very hot in the room where the examination took place. The open windows looked out on a noisy alley, teeming with people jostling around the water pump, bucket in hand. Our bodies were full of fleas and covered in scabs, our faces wore the confused expression of people who had lost control of things. I spoke too little anyway, sometimes I was even completely silent. When we were little, my cousin Sao Mai spoke for me because I was her shadow: the same age, the same grade, the same sex, with the only difference that her face was facing the light and mine was facing the darkness, the shadow, the silence.

My mother insisted that I speak as well as learn French and English as quickly as possible, as my mother tongue had become useless. Already in our second year in Quebec, she sent me to a barracks for English-speaking cadets. He told me that this way I would learn English for free. But he was wrong, learning was not free. I paid for it, and dearly. There were about forty cadets in the barracks, tall, boisterous and, on top of that, in their teens. They took themselves seriously, meticulously inspecting the fold of collars, the slant of berets, the shine of boots. The oldest called the youngest. Without realizing it, they were playing at war, at absurdity. I couldn't understand them. I also did not understand why the senior officer kept repeating my neighbor's name. Maybe to remember the name of the teenager in question, who was twice my height. I had my first dialogue in English, addressing him at the end of practice: Bye, Asshole.

My mother often put me in extremely uncomfortable positions. One time he sent me to buy sugar at the grocery store that was right below our first apartment. I went but didn't find the sugar. My mother sent me away and even locked the door after me: "Don't come back without sugar!". She had forgotten that I was deaf and gone. I sat down on the grocer's steps and stood there until the close of business, when the grocer took me by the hand and led me to the packets of sugar. He had understood me, despite the bitterness of the word sugar in my mouth. For a long time I thought that my mother took immense pleasure in pushing me to the edge of the abyss. When I became a mother in my turn, I realized that I should have guessed her silhouette behind the locked door and the eye glued to the peephole; that I should have heard him on the phone with a grocer while I cried on the steps. Later I also found out that beyond the hopes she undoubtedly had for me, she was able to teach me how to put down roots again, how to dream.

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