Delicate but tough love, sucking loneliness

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Delicate but tough love, sucking loneliness
Delicate but tough love, sucking loneliness

We present to you " Ман", a captivatingly fresh and "appetizing" novel that will remain in your memory for its language, sensuality and love of life!


"Man" is the work of the Canadian writer of Vietnamese origin Kim Thuy, whose debut novel "Rue" captivated the Bulgarian audience. Mann has three mothers – one gave birth to her, the other nursed her, the third raised her: “Mama and I are not alike. She is short and I am tall. She has matte skin and mine is like a French doll. She has a hole in her calf and I have a hole in her heart.” It was only the third, last mother who found a husband - a lonely Vietnamese restaurateur who lives in Montreal. Over time, attachment to him gives way to a delicate but tough love, of those who make you feel cut off from the world, but actually suck your loneliness away.

Kim Thuy was born in 1968 in Saigon, South Vietnam, from where she emigrated with her parents when she was only 10 years old. He graduated in law in Montreal, worked as a lawyer, and practiced other professions before devoting himself entirely to writing. The origin of the writer, the vicissitudes in her native country and beyond, the unpretended manner with which she introduces us to the depths of the most intimate experiences and emotions - all this gives a unique flavor to her style and turns meeting her into an exotic revelation. It is no coincidence that her very first book, the autobiographical novel Rou, was awarded five prestigious awards.




Mama and I are not alike. She is short and I am tall. She has matte skin and mine is like a French doll. She has a hole in her calf and I have a hole in my heart.

My first mother, the one who conceived and gave birth to me, had a hole in her head. She was very young, hardly a girl - in Vietnam no woman would dare to get pregnant if she did not wear a ring on her finger.

My second mother, the one who found me in a vegetable garden among the okra plantations, had a hole in her faith. She stopped believing in people, and especially in their stories. She secluded herself in a thatched hut, far from the mighty arms of the Mekong, and began to pray in Sanskrit.

My third mother, the one who witnessed my first steps, became Mama, my Mama. That morning she felt like opening her arms again and opened the shutters of the windows in her room, which had been closed until then. She saw me from afar in the warm light, and I have become her daughter. She gave me a new life, raising me in the anonymity of the big city, at the bottom of a schoolyard, where the other children envied me that my mother was a teacher and seller of candied bananas.


Every morning before school we went to the market. First we went to the seller of ripe coconuts, which have more fruit and less juice. The woman was grating the first half of the walnut with a soda cap taped to the top of a slat. Thick stripes, similar to a decorative frieze, fell like ribbons on the banana leaf spread on the stall. The saleswoman kept talking and kept asking Mama the same question: "What are you giving this child to eat that his lips are so red?". Each time I pursed my lips to avoid her remark, but she grated the second half of the walnut with such speed that I invariably gagged in amazement. He stepped with one foot on a long black metal spatula, the handle of which was leaning against a wooden bench. Without looking at the sharp teeth on the rounded end of the spatula, she grated the fruit at the speed of a machine.

The waterfall of crumbs that pours out of the hole in the middle of the spatula might look like the swirl of snowflakes in Santa's land, Mom always said, actually quoting her mom. She was giving her the word to hear it again. Whenever she saw boys playing football with an empty soda can, she invariably whispered "londy" just like her mother.

It was the first French word I learned, "londi". In Vietnamese, lon means tin box and đi means going. Put together, these two sounds form "lundi" in the ear of a Vietnamese woman. Like my mother, Mum taught me this word by telling me to point to the box before kicking it and to say 'londi' meaning 'Monday'. For her, the second day of the week is the best because her mother died before she taught her to say the rest. Only Monday was associated with a clear and unforgettable image. The other six days had no visual correspondences, so they were indistinguishable from each other. That's why my mother often confused Tuesday with Thursday and sometimes switched places between Saturday and Wednesday.

vicious peppers

But before she lost her mother, she learned to extract the milk of the nut by squeezing balls of coconut crumbs soaked in warm water. Mothers taught their daughters to cook quietly, whispering, lest the neighbors steal the recipes and tempt their husbands with the same dishes. Culinary traditions were passed down in secret, just as a magician reveals his tricks to a novice illusionist, gesture after gesture in the rhythm of everyday life. Following the natural course, the daughters learned to measure the amount of water for the rice with the first phalanx of the index finger, to cut the "vicious peppers" (ớtọng) with the tip of the blade to turn them into harmless flowers, to peel the mango from the base to the top, following the direction of the fibers…


So I also learned from my mother that among the dozens of varieties of bananas sold in the market, only chuối xiêm bananas can be flattened without breaking and candied without turning black. When I arrived in Montreal, I made this breakfast for my husband, who hadn't had it in twenty years. I wanted him to taste again the typical combination of peanuts and cashews, two ingredients that in southern Vietnam are put in both desserts and breakfast. I hoped that I would be able to take care of my husband and accompany him unnoticed, much like the fragrances that are barely perceptible due to their constant presence.


Mama entrusted me to this man out of motherly love, just as my second mother, the nun, had entrusted me to herself, thinking of my future. Mom was preparing her death, so she was looking for a man with fatherly qualities. A friend of hers, who had become a matchmaker for the occasion, visited us one afternoon with him. All that was required of me was to serve tea. I didn't look at the man even as I placed the glass in front of him. My look wasn't necessary, only his was important.

ship people

He was coming from far away and didn't have much time. Several families were waiting to present their daughters to him. He was originally from Saigon, but had left Vietnam at twenty years old by water with the ship's men. He had spent several years in a refugee camp in Thailand before arriving in Montreal, where he found a job but not a home, or at least not quite. He had lived too long in Vietnam to feel Canadian, and too long in Canada to be Vietnamese again.


When he got up from the table and walked to the door, his gait was that of an uncertain man lost between two worlds. He didn't know if he should cross the threshold before or after the women. He didn't know if it was right to speak in his own voice or the matchmaker's. We were all taken aback by his hesitation on how to approach Mama. He called her now "poop" (Chị), now "aunt" (Cô), now "grandma-aunt" (Bác). No one reprimanded him because he wasn't from here, coming from a place where personal pronouns are meant to maintain impersonal neutrality. The lack of such pronouns in the Vietnamese language makes it necessary to take a position at the very first contact: the younger interlocutor owes respect and obedience to the older one, while the older one owes advice and protection to the younger one. From their conversation, it can be easily understood, for example, that the young one is the nephew of the old man, who is his mother's older brother. Even if the interlocutors were not related, it could still be determined whether the older one was younger than the other's parents. In the case of my future husband, he would have partially expressed his interest in me if he had called Mama "Bác," since "grandma-aunt" would have elevated Mama to the rank of his parents and thereby indirectly placed her in the position of mother-in-law. But his uncertainty had confused him.


To our great surprise, he returned the next day with a fan, a box of maple biscuits and a tube of shampoo as a gift. This time I had to sit between Mom and the matchmaker, face to face with the man and his parents, who lined the table with pictures of him - him behind the wheel of his car, him standing in front of a field of tulips, him in his restaurant, with two large bowls hot broth in hands. Lots of pictures where it was always just him.

tree with purple flowers

Mama agreed to take him a third time the next day. He asked to be alone with me for a while. In Vietnam, cafes where the chairs face the street like in France were meant for men. Girls without make-up and false eyelashes didn't drink coffee, or at least not in public. We could drink corosol, sapotilla, or papaya smoothies in the neighbor's garden, but the corner with blue plastic stools seemed to be reserved for the snuggled smiles of schoolgirls and the timid touch of young lovers' hands. And we were just future spouses. There was no place left for us in the whole neighborhood but the pink granite bench in front of the teachers' apartments, among which was ours, in the schoolyard, under the tree heavy with crimson blossoms, whose branches were as delicate and graceful as the arms of a ballerina. The bench was covered in bright red petals, some of which he cleared to sit on. I stood straight across from him, regretting that he couldn't see himself surrounded by all those colors. And in that moment, I realized that I would stay right forever, that he would never think of making room for me next to him, because at the bottom of his soul he was alone, a loner. I handed him a glass of the s alty lemonade my mother had made. He himself resembled the darkened lemons soaked in s alty marinade, heated by the sun and deformed by time - his look was not senile, but aged, slightly blurred, faded.

– Have you seen a squirrel?

– Picture only.

– I'm leaving tomorrow.

– …

– I will send you the documents.

– …

– We will have children.

– Yes.

Leave me your address and phone number, handwritten on a piece of paper folded in half. He walked away slowly and unobtrusively like the soldier who had given Mama the following poem, also written on folded paper:

Anh tải em

Cuộc đượng anh không được

Giấc nội anh tị nội

Một tâmọm đầu động


Anh tải em

Bài thỏ anh không vội

Nối đầu đi tìm

Màu mây anh của hột


I give you

The life I didn't live, A dream I can only dream about, Soul desolate

In the awake nights of anticipation.

I give you

The poem I didn't write, The pain I reach for, The color of the cloud I never knew, The longings of silence.

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