“I had all of eternity because time is infinite when we don’t expect anything.” (p. 133)
Honestly, I knew approximately a year ago from today that Kim Thùy’s Mãn was to be translated into English, hence for all of 2014 I was eagerly anticipating its release even though I originally only knew two things with reference to it: one that it had references to food in it and two that it was by Kim Thùy, however those two were more than enough for me to wish for to have the book in my possession. However when the English synopsis for Mãn was released and I discovered that the book also had a love affair, I became wary as I don’t tend to take pleasure in reading books where there is cheating. Fortunately, after hearing numerous amazing things, I decided to give caution to the wind and pick it up.
Mãn is not only the title of the book, but also the name of the protagonist, a Vietnamese woman who enters into a marriage that is arranged by her “maman”, the woman who raised her as her own daughter. The marriage, though it is not what westerners would consider a “love marriage” is a peaceful one, and for some time Mãn is content with her life in Montreal, assisting her husband run his Vietnamese restaurant. Eventually, as Mãn starts to open up and develop an identity outside of her family and gain some renown for her cooking, with the assistance of her friend, Julie and later Hông, she starts to desire more in life and this slowly leads to her love affair with another chef who is also married.
One of my favourite elements in this novel is the portrayal of female relationships. From Mãn’s relationship with her “maman” to her friendship with both, Julie and Hông, I adored how positive the relationships were. These women were both supportive and fiercely protective of each other which is always pleasant to read. Additionally, I liked how similar of her previous book, Ru there are allusions to the Vietnam War and how it impacted the Vietnamese people. In particular the flashback to one character’s experience of being separated from their family and thrown into a jail that had such horrid conditions was absolutely heart wrenching. I am acquainted with various people who have personally experienced a similar separation from their family, and even a few people who met their relatives for the first time only after both the North and South became united. And while I do not believe anything justifies an extramarital affair, I suppose there was one positive consequence of Mãn’s affair, which was that it encouraged her to become an extra loving and affectionate mother to her children. It also helped that the affair was only a minor though significant piece of Mãn’s story.
All in all, Mãn was a book that I without a doubt enjoyed more than I initially thought. It was a short but emotionally powerful, in addition to being a somewhat romantic book which is reminiscent to Kim Thùy’s previous book, Ru. Once again Kim Thùy has managed to sweep me away in both time and place thus making it feel like I was standing right there beside the characters in her book. Reading Mãn was an experience I would describe as akin to the feeling I have after finally eating banh xèo (the Vietnamese crêpe described in the book that Mãn makes), after craving it for a long time; I felt satisfied although I still have room for more.
“At that precise moment, I knew that I would always remain standing, that he would never think of making room for me beside him because that was the sort of man he was, alone and lonely.” (p. 10)
If you like this book, you’ll love: Ru by Kim Thùy
Regardless of how this book came into my possession, the above review consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.