Kim Thúy and the burdens of the past

The beloved novelist’s latest is an answer of sorts to her critics

Ru, by the Montreal writer Kim Thúy, was one of the most successful debuts in Canadian literary history, sold to twenty countries, winning a Governor General’s Award and CBC’s Canada Reads at home, and receiving an Italian prize for multiculturalism as well as three French awards, including Salon du livres de Paris, abroad. The story is told from the perspective of Nguyen An Tinh, a ten-year-old girl whose family flees Vietnam to escape Communist rule. Readers were mesmerized by Thúy’s lightly fictionalized account of her own experience, in which the Nguyens, along with two hundred fellow passengers, cram into a rickety boat, surviving for days on biscuits soaked in motor oil. Their vessel smashes to bits on the coast of Malaysia, where they suffer many months in a refugee camp before being sponsored and granted entry to Canada.

As compelling as the story itself is the manner in which it is delivered: Rather than comprising uninterrupted...