And, in every respect, ideas about limitation and freedom are explored. There is no distinction between the personal and the political, no distinction between lingering and recurring losses.
“How to suddenly lose the permanent presence of my father? How to find one’s way before an endless horizon, with no barbed wire, no overseers?”
Throughout, there is a continued focus on language, which readers will recognize from her earlier works. It is impossible to separate the language from the story, the truths from the act of questioning.
“To my great surprise, the character for the number one, a single horizontal stroke, was considered the most important , because it illustrated the primordial unity, the fusion between sky and earth, the horizon, the beginning of the beginning. Each character told its own story, and when it was combined with one, two, or three others, new stories formed, transforming the initial meaning.”
All of this talk of characters is, in that moment, very clearly about language and capturing meaning in symbols. But of course, readers take a step back and see the commentary about the characters in Vi as well, and the different aspects of Vi’s self within, too.
“He often told me that it was not my buttons done up to the neck and at the wrists that would protect me, but the strength I would draw on to disengage myself.”
That may be true, but it is also true that Kim Thúy draws upon her strength to engage herself and readers in narratives which pose difficult questions about belonging and home, delicately and deliberately, so that this simple act of engagement creates a space for each of us to inhabit on the page.
What work by a woman have you recently read in translation?
EDITED TO ADD:
This is one of the twelve books chosen for the longlist for the 2018 Giller Prize, which was announced on September 17, 2018 and selected by the 2018 jury which includes Kamal Al-Solaylee, Maxine Bailey, John Freeman, Philip Hensher and Heather O’Neill.
On October 1st, five other books were advanced to the shortlist and one of those will be chosen to win the prize on November 19th. This year I am reading with the shadow jury, with Alison and Kim and Naomi, who have committed to reading this shortlist in its entirety. (Naomi’s review of this novel is here.)