Midweek Mini Reviews #17


This Midweek Mini Reviews post features two of the books I brought with me on my trip to Vietnam this summer.

Vi by Kim Thúy

What I loved most about Vi was how family was truly the focus of the story this time around. Readers learn about the title character’s family history (starting with her grandparents) well before we get to Vi’s story and even after she goes out on her own, her family continues to have an impact on her life. I also appreciated the fact that another one of the central aspects of this novel was the Vietnamese Canadian immigrant experience which does differ from the experiences of Vietnamese Americans. I also fell in love with Vi’s family, including her brothers who all looked out for her in their own way as well as her mother who “gave” Vi to her friend, Hà to raise so that she can have a better education and future. As a result of this upbringing, Vi is able to have many adventures across the globe which I loved reading about. All that being said, however, I felt that Vi was not as well written compared with Thúy’s earlier novels, Ru and Mãn and the ending left much to be desired. Furthermore, despite being the titular character readers barely get to know Vi before the book ends. In the end, Vi was a decent read as it has Thúy’s trademark stripped-down, exquisite prose, however the lack of lightness in Vi’s story a

Lands of Lost Borders: Out of Bounds on the Silk Road by Kate Harris

Lands of Lost Borders is a memoir that details the journey and life of the author Kate Harris. Harris has always dreamt of being an explorer and it was interesting to read about how she discovered and harnessed her writing talents to get funding for her adventures as a student. That being said, this was a slow and tough read for me because felt long-winded at times with all the history lessons and technical details of biking embedded in the book. I would’ve liked there to have been more on her adventure in present day, including greater details on the characters she came across and the cities and towns she and her friend travelled through. I did, however, appreciated the fact that Harris doesn’t gloss over the difficulties of her journey as they do face many challenges along the way. So as far as travel literature goes, Lands of Lost Borders isn’t high on my favourites or recommend reading list, however I did learn about Central and Western Asia from it. In the end, I think I probably would have been better off with an audiobook for this one given the type of story it was. 

 

 

 

Regardless of how this book came into my possession, the above review consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.

Book Review | Mãn by Kim Thúy

Authour:Mãn
Kim Thúy
Format:
Hardcover, 135 pages
Publication date:
August 26, 2014
Publisher:
Random House Canada
Source:
Received from publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Review:

“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.

20140824-110708.jpg
Making bánh xèo, this one isn’t actually for me, as it has bean sprouts in it.
One finished product, ready to eat!
One finished product, ready to eat!

“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.

Waiting On Wednesday #24 | Mãn by Kim Thúy

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Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme that highlights upcoming titles that we’re looking forward to/dying to read.
It is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine
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Authour:
Kim Thúy
Publication date:
August 26th 2014
Publisher:
Knopf Random Vintage Canada

Synposis:

Mãn has three mothers: the one who gives birth to her in wartime, the nun who plucks her from a vegetable garden, and her beloved Maman, who becomes a spy to survive. Seeking security for her grown daughter, Maman finds Mãn a husband—a lonely Vietnamese restaurateur who lives in Montreal.

Thrown into a new world, Mãn discovers her natural talent as a chef. Gracefully she practices her art, with food as her medium. She creates dishes that are much more than sustenance for the body: they evoke memory and emotion, time and place, and even bring her customers to tears.

Mãn is a mystery—her name means “perfect fulfillment,” yet she and her husband seem to drift along, respectfully and dutifully. But when she encounters a married chef in Paris, everything changes in the instant of a fleeting touch, and Mãn discovers the all-encompassing obsession and ever-present dangers of a love affair.

I adored Kim Thúy’s award winning novel, Ru and was beyond excited to learn that she had written more books after Ru and that another one of her books would soon be translated into English. I love reading works by Asian writers, and its unfortunate that there aren’t that many Vietnamese-Canadian authours. The fact that this book also takes place in one of my favourite Canadian is an added bonus. This is one book that I definitely would love to have.

What books are you “waiting” on this week?