Ru is a short, ruminative novel about a Vietnamese refugee to Canada who is now raising her two sons in a strange, hybrid world.
The novel exists in multiple worlds. As the title even tells you, ru means either a lullaby, as in a lullaby to her young sons, to her childhood, to the end of a culture or a set of cultural experiences now long asleep. In French, ru means a small river, as in a stream or a digression or a diversion.
It means all of these things. Thuy’s narrator was born in the middle of Tet offensive. Too young to know a French-occupied Vietnam, but also too young to have much in the way of a cultural understanding of the nation, the narrator is not simply caught between worlds, she’s lacks an origin, even though she has a beginning in the world. Sort of born on the run already, the narrator left Vietnam quite young and immigrated to Canada, where her existence is still hybrid, having come to Quebec. Speaking a French not native to her own background and not the same as her present state, she is of multiple minds.
Her son Henri has autism, so like his mother, his emotional understanding of the world exists as a wholly separate experience from those around him. This perhaps is an additional connection to his mother.
This is a strongly written piece of literature, but I am not sure in what way it is a novel. It’s fractured, like our narrator, but it lacks something central. That is definitely the point, but also lacks something at the core.