Kim Thuy is such a beautiful writer. You know when you open the pages of a Kim Thuy book that you’ll be enveloped in warmth and awed by her lyrical prose. She’s quite like Sarah Winman in that both have such a stunning and beautiful command of words. They both have this incredible ability to turn everyday words into something that literally takes your breath away. There is never one extra word unnecessarily used. It is why Thuy can write a slight 130-page book but leave you fully satisfied as though finishing a 300+-page book.
Sheila Fischman always translates from the French to English with just as much beauty as Thuy writes. She makes it just as lyrical and lovely as I’m sure it sounds in French.
I did truly love the style of how this was written, with its short vignettes of stories and I love how each short chapter was printed with its chapter “titles” printed along the side and not across the top of the page as is usually found. The English meaning of the Vietnamese word, if one was used, was translated below it. All of these things made Vi a special book.
So why am I only giving this 3.5 stars and not the full 4? It’s just that I found the character of Vi to be very flat and dry. I felt nothing but a growing distance from her, and as I’ve now read one or two more books after finishing this one, I find myself struggling to remember what Vi was about? There wasn’t a lot of depth to her character, I found, and perhaps not as much to the other characters as well. While each of the “stories” told within the book were very good to read, there was just something flat and distant about Vi?
I also read Vi for the Reading Women Challenge, this was for the Translation square, and bonus points! It was also translated by a woman. We’re less than a month away from the Giller Prize Longlist announcement and I fully anticipate seeing Vi on that longlist. Don’t you?
Do you the think the distance we feel as readers could be because Vi is working to find herself, through all these various relationships (with countries, with people) and hasn’t quite accomplished the task yet? I’m not sure I could say that I warmed to her either, but I did related to some of the situations she finds herself in, particularly to the sense of just getting one thing figured out and then finding yourself at sea in another way. Do you think this one could appear on the prizelists this year?
Very good point BIP….yet, I still have to say that the contents of this one have completely left my head, but I still anticipate seeing it on the Giller longlist!
I’ve not read anything by this author, though I’m often reserving her books at the library where I’m working this summer. I am curious about her works because they are short yet carefully written, as you describe. Would you recommend another one of her works over this one?
Hi Jenna, the only other one I’ve read by Thuy was Ru. Again, beautiful, lyrical writing – I felt more strongly for this one over Vi – her descriptions of the immigrant experience are heartbreaking and breathtaking at the same time.