Ru by Kim Thuy

During the summer, I took New Writing in Canada as a requirement for my English major. It involved reading five texts, ranging from topics about native Americans to British colonialism to slavery. A text that stood out to me in particular was Ru by Kim Thuy. Ru is a story about a woman recalling her childhood as she becomes caught in a civil war in Vietnam and escapes with her family to Canada. Her family is also caught in major transitions from their old way of life to their new one. She becomes a mother of two children, one of whom is autistic and serves as a parallel to her experience coming to a new country, as she identifies with his inability to hear and speak without being deaf and blind.

The entire text is structured in segments, rather than chapters, strung together by Ru’s thoughts and emotions laced with poetry and wit. I liked the way Thuy expresses Ru’s complicated character. Her name is more complex than it seems, just like the book. Its single syllable may make the novel appear to be small and easy to read, but it actually carries much more meaning and requires a more in-depth analysis to really appreciate the fluidity and strength of every word it contains.

When I first bought the book, I suspected it would be my favourite text. I thought I could read the novel on the bus to school, as a mere 79 pages on an e-book didn’t seem like a big deal. I was greatly mistaken. I got through almost half of the e-book but had to go back to previous pages over and over again because of the lyrical writing and metaphoric connections between the short segments. I was weighed down by the heavy words and wondering how such a light read had become so loaded, as if each segment of Ru’s life was a heavy rock that was collected in a bag.

Ru’s character is stuck in between two identities: Vietnamese and Canadian refugee. Knowing this, she spends a lot of time in limbo as she tries to fluctuate between the two but is not bound to one over the other. This makes Ru easy to identify with, as someone who is in a new country but also has to at least attempt to maintain the cultures and traditions of her home country. Ru’s identification with the Vietnamese women carrying the inaudible history of Vietnam on their backs was riveting, as you start contemplating the fact that there is more than one history, and that some histories are more dominating than others. I was very fortunate that I got the chance to not just read, but understand Ru as a text that is worth much more time than a single bus ride to school.