On Oct. 6, York’s Canadian Writers in Person course presented Kim Thúy reading from her latest book, Mãn. York teaching assistant Dana Patrascu-Kingsley sent the following report to YFile.
For the second instalment of Canadian Writers in Person this year, Kim Thúy visited York University to talk about her book Mãn, translated in 2014 from French by Sheila Fischman.
In so many respects, Thúy surprises and delights – on the page, through her writing, and in real life, with her infectious humour. She trained as a translator, worked as an interpreter, became a lawyer and practiced law for a few years before having children, then decided to open a restaurant, which she ran for five years. After all this, to hear her tell it, she kind of fell into writing as the next adventure that was awaiting her.
Her first novel, Ru, was published in 2009 to great acclaim. Ru was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, received a Governor General’s Literary Award and won the nationwide book competition Canada Reads.
Mãn, her second novel, came out in 2013. As The Huffington Post notes, “Kim Thúy allows us to discover Vietnam through its history, its vocabulary, its food and its customs…. In addition to bringing us the happy and tragic destinies of immigrants, Mãn also proves that Kim Thúy is the greatest of romantics.”
A book about love and food, and the connections between love and familial duty, Mãn makes us aware of the complexity and variety of human emotions and the intricate ways in which they can be expressed. Mãn is about life in Vietnam before the war and then immigration to Canada where Mãn, the protagonist, raises a family, makes friends, and experiences love.
Thúy herself spent her childhood in Vietnam, fleeing with her family as “boat people” and immigrating to Montreal, where she learned both French and English—at her mother’s insistence that, as a Canadian, she must be bilingual.
In her writing, Thúy pays very close attention to the nuances and the beauty of words in Vietnamese, and in French, the language in which she writes. She says she wrote this book in order to be able to share with us a poem by Edwin Morgan that she encountered and loved. With this poem, and with Mãn, she makes us aware of how literature can help us imagine worlds otherwise unknown to us.
Thúy spoke about how Mãn was born out of a conversation with a friend of hers who had been seeing a therapist for 10 years about how her parents hadn’t said “I love you” to her growing up. From that conversation, Thúy realized that she herself grew up in an environment where she didn’t hear the words “I love you,” but she knew that in her own family there were other ways in which people showed their love for each other—mainly, through preparing and sharing food. Out of this revelation, Mãn, a book about the depth of unspoken emotions, was born.
On Oct. 20, Frances Itani came to York to read from Tell and on Nov. 3, Greg Hollingshead will read from and talk about Act Normal.
Readings are free and open to any member of the public. All readings are held Tuesdays from 7 to 9pm in 206 Accolade West Building, Keele campus.