Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
By Ariel Gordon
Kim Thúy emigrated to Montreal from Saigon by way of Malaysia with
her parents when she was a child. Before becoming a writer in her
forties, she was a translator, a lawyer, and a restaurateur. Thúy’s
first novel, Ru, won the French-language Governor General’s Award for
Fiction in 2010. Sheila Fischman’s English translation was nominated for
the 2012 Giller Prize and 2013 Amazon.ca First Novel Award.
Thúy will be launching the English
edition of Mãn, her second novel, on Sept. 12 at McNally Robinson
Booksellers. She recently spoke with Winnipeg writer Ariel Gordon.
Q: What do you want people to know about Mãn?
KT: I started with a question: could love
expressed with a box of chocolates or a bouquet of flowers have the
same weight as a set of dog tags that symbolized the life or death of a
soldier? Writing this book gave me the answer. I like to think that Mãn
is a book that talks about not just the what of love, but the how of
Q: Your first book was published in fifteen countries and won the Governor General’s Award for Fiction. What was that like?
KT: I’ve found it both surprising and
moving to meet, say, a Romanian reader who told me that we shared a
common life story, or a doctoral student in Stockholm who was writing
her thesis on Ru. On my bookshelf I can see the book in twenty-odd
versions, each with a different cover, since each country, each
publishing house has its own style and its own take on the text. But
still, the content is the same and is usually appreciated for the same
reasons. And so I like to think we are more or less the same underneath,
or at least, we’re affected by things in similar ways, despite our
Q: Sheila Fischman has translated
both of your books from French to English. Do you think of her as your
first reader, in some ways? What kind of relationship do you have with
her: is it collaborative or do you just hand the book over and wait to
see what she comes up with?
KT: Since my books are
published in French well before they’re translated, they have already
had a great many "first" readers, among them the editorial director and
editor at Libre Expression, my editor in France…and even before Sheila,
there’s my editor at Random House Canada, who reads the book in French.
So while Sheila is not my first reader, it’s up to her to transpose the
books from Francophone to Anglophone culture. She does much more than
simply translate. Because when I read Ru and Mãn in English, Sheila
makes it possible for me to rediscover the rhythm, the musicality and
the colours in these contained literary worlds without a consciousness
of language. In short, I forget I’m reading in English.
Sheila is a master translator and so for
me the best plan is to leave her to her work and get out of the way.
Having said that, Sheila lives just 15 minutes away from me. So we’ve
been able to get together over a bowl of soup now and again and talk
about all sorts of things—but never directly about translation,
Q: Ru was partly a memoir and
partly a fiction and was eventually labeled "a novel" by your publisher.
What territory does Mãn occupy, given your background as a restaurateur
and resident of Montreal?
KT: My mother would tell you I’m living
in a novel, or that I’m making a novel out of my life. Mãn is obviously
inspired by my adventures in the restaurant world, but the craft of
writing enables us to go well beyond the bounds of reality. I suppress
certain details, steal others from elsewhere, leave out others that
don’t fit with the story I want to tell. The novel form allows me to
blur the lines, to modify the facts to suit my story. One man’s mustache will appear on the face of someone else; the scar that appears
on the arm of one person will transform into a gaping sore on another’s
leg. In short, I give myself the freedom to completely erase the line
between fact and fiction. All of it is combined, blended, shaken up—like a cocktail.
Q: What are you reading right now? What are you writing right now?
KT: I have just bought the latest book by
Heather O’Neill, The Girl Who Was Saturday Night. I am a huge fan of
her first book, Lullabies for Little Criminals. I must have bought
twenty copies to give to friends over the past few years.
I am writing something at the moment—if
it is good enough perhaps it will become a book. For the time being,
I’m enjoying the words appearing on my screen, revealing a world I’m
discovering line by line.
Ariel Gordon is a Winnipeg writer. Stowaways, her second collection of poetry, was published earlier this year.