Monday, 11 January 2021

Vi

Vi by Kim Thuy

Vi by Kim Thúy is this year’s choice for One eRead Canada, a national eBook reading event which runs from January 1 - 31st. The title character Vi, the youngest of four children and the only girl, narrates this moving story of a Vietnamese family over several decades of the 20th century. The political climate is changing and two of Vi’s brothers are about to be sent to war, and certain death. Her mother decides that the family must escape the Vietnam conflict. Vi’s father, a soft, spoilt man from a wealthy family, decides to stay behind.

Vi’s family hires smugglers to take them by boat to Malaysia and are lucky to arrive without encountering storms or pirates, but two other boats containing their friends are not as fortunate. In the refugee camp, the family is selected to be part of the first wave of Vietnamese immigrants allowed into Canada.

They arrive in Montreal in the middle of a heat wave, wearing warm clothes they had purchased in anticipation of cold weather. Vi’s mother finds a job washing dishes in a local restaurant and Vi’s older brother, Long, works in a Japanese restaurant while going to business school. Thanks to a worldly family friend and her diplomat husband, Vi is given the opportunity to see the world from a different perspective than her brothers. She decides to study translation and eventually becomes a lawyer and returns to Vietnam.

 Thúy’s writing is spare, vivid, and beautifully poetic, evoking the languid heat of Vietnam, and the icy cold of the Canadian winters they eventually encounter. Despite running only 130 pages, so much happens to Vi and her family members that the book has the sweep of a historical novel. Its themes encompass not only the refugee experience, but also complex relationships and the enduring strength of women.

Dinise Sizer is a librarian at Richmond Public Library. find more great reads here.

 

Monday, 14 December 2020

How Long 'til Black Future Month

 

How Long 'til Black Future Month? - Jemisin, N. K.

by N. K. Jemisin

I read Jemisin’s excellent essay of the same name online in 2013 (http://nkjemisin.com/2013/09/how-long-til-black-future-month/), so when I picked up this book I was expecting a collection of essays, but was surprised (and pleased) when it turned out to be a collection of short stories instead. And what a collection it is!

 There is Stone Hunger, an exploration of the ideas that would become The Broken Earth trilogy, and The City Born Great, which I believe is a similar exploration of an idea that became The City We Became, the first of Jemisin’s trilogy-in-progress. These are interesting stories on their own, but also give insight into how the author builds from short story to long, intricate novels, a peek behind the curtains that we as readers don’t often get to see.

The emotions of these stories run a wide gamut. There is the fairly grim, but ultimately optimistic opening tale, The Ones Who Stay and Fight, to the bittersweet story of power and race and history told in Red Dirt Witch. Then there is the playful magic realism of L’Alchemista.

One of my favourites was the final, longer story of magic and survival in New Orleans post-Katrina: Sinners, Saints, Dragons, and Haints, in the City Beneath the Still Waters, with its layers of relationships between the survivors in the flooded city, who they once were, who they were in the aftermath, and who they could become.

There are 22 stories, all magical, sometimes veering closer to science fiction, sometimes further into fantasy, occasionally hewing next to realism. But regardless of the genre, all are stories about people and their relationships, whether between a mother and a daughter coming of age (and of responsibility) in Red Dirt Witch, or strangers becoming friends, allies, and more in The Effluent Engine, or striving to be the best even when everyone around tries to hold back in The Valedictorian, or missing someone so badly it becomes addictive in Cuisine des Memoires.

And, ultimately, it is those relationships that make the stories, and the book, so compelling.

 

Friday, 27 November 2020

An Irish Country Family

An Irish Country Family       By Patrick Taylor

With the current pandemic keeping us apart from those we love, I am finding it important to connect in other ways. My reading choices of late seek comfort and escape and this has led me back to old friends, Doctor Fingal Flaherty O’Reilly, and Dr. Barry Laverty, GPs of the Irish village of Ballybucklebo. Irish born Canadian author, Patrick Taylor, brings the village to life in his Irish Country Series that is set in the 1960’s, a time of some incredible medical breakthroughs, and some political upheaval.

 My current read in the series is An Irish Country Family which, although set in 1969, contains the perfect story line for today’s times.  This chapter in the lives of the Ballybucklebo residents shows how a small village takes care of its own at a time when Northern Ireland is being torn apart by the tumultuous riots that began the 30 year “troubles.”

 While Taylor weaves in the violence, it is always just on the periphery and our little village demonstrates how the conflict does not affect how they live their daily lives. The village comes together to rebuild a family home that was destroyed by fire, to raise funds for children to attend a new camp, and to help each other in times of illness, with Protestants and Catholics, Loyalists and Republicans each working side by side to shore up the village family.

 This volume (#14) is particularly poignant as it travels back in time to Dr. Barry Laverty’s medical student days. He is beginning to practice at the Royal Hospital, where he rotates through different wards to help him decide where he wants to focus his medicine. In his work, Laverty meets many patients and fellow physicians who become friends and help steer him towards his preferred specialty.  Barry dislikes the practice of referring to patients by their affliction, rather than their name. Barry believes that each patient deserves to be treated with care and compassion, a feeling that leads him to join the general practice in Ballybucklebo. 

 The bonds of family, friends and general human kindness resonate through Ballybucklebo, and give the series the warm fuzzies we are looking for in this time of separation. It reminds us that collectively we are stronger and shows us the importance of neighbourly love and support in times of strife.