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EM by Kim Thúy
Translated by Sheila Fischman
Since first stumbling across Ru during last year’s #WITMonth, I’ve become quite a fan of Kim Thúy. She has the rare gift of weaving complex, beautiful narrative tapestries from some pretty horrific historical events, and then distilling them into immensely powerful short books. Pretty much my ideal. Em might well be the most interesting I’ve read thus far; at times, unbearably sad and brutal, but also deeply human and tender. It’s like a constellation of exquisite, poetic traumascapes; the stories of a small few characters drawn together by chance, by fate, and sometimes by design, each one leading into the next.
Starting in an Indochine plantation, Em moves through My Lai (one of the most painful scenes I’ve read of late), to the streets of Saigon and the evacuation of children left behind by American soldiers (Bui doi for the Miss Saigon fans out there), until settling on the nail salons and restaurants of the Vietnamese diaspora. Each story is finely-honed; a world unto itself that offers a new perspective on those that came before, but subject to reassessment down the track. As much a work of conceptual art as it is a literary affair.
Em by Kim Thuy (Tr. Sheila Fischman)
Penguin Random House, 2021