In Vietnamese, the word "ru" means lullaby. In French, it means small stream, but also signifies a flow - of tears, blood, or money. In Kim Thuy's book Ru, it symbolizes the flow of life across waters, in the form of a beautiful lullaby.
The book follows a young woman on a journey from a well to do life in Saigon to a Malaysian refugee camp and then on to a new life in Quebec. As she adapts to her new life, the American Dream life, she is thrown a curve as she must learn to love in a new way with her autistic son.
Each page of this beautifully written book is its own heartfelt memory. Kim Thuy draws on the memories of her own life in short, emotional clips, jumping back and forth between time and place to paint the bigger picture. This isn't a book that builds a story from beginning to end or that takes the time to develop characters and give them back stories. This is a short novel that weaves pieces together to create a life.
It wasn't what I expected. I loved the sense of a lullaby it created, a song of love and memory to a homeland, to love and to life. But after a while, the one page vignettes - some a few a paragraphs, some a few sentences - failed to create a strong story for me. I found myself going back pages to see if I missed something or to remember a name, because I just couldn't find a deep enough connection to the book and wasn't taking it all in.
The French version of Ru has won tons of praise. Published in 2009 it went on to with the Governor General's award for French-language fiction among quite a few other awards and foreign rights were sold to 15 countries. The translation to English by Sheila Fischman is well done. The writing is beautiful and haunting, and it certainly feels like a lullaby. It's an interesting book and I'm glad that I read it shortly after reading The Headmaster's Wager by Vincent Lam, unfortunately it didn't have the same quality of story as Lam's offering.
It's hard for me to say whether I recommend this book or I don't. If you're looking for something that is emotionally stunning and a little bit different in terms of the typical story-telling of a novel, this is a good choice. But if you're looking for a novel with depth, this may not be your first pick.