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Reading in 2013: Away & Ru

I forgot that I am blogging through this year's reads (unofficially, although I guess this makes it official) and have finished TWO books in the past week.

Away by Jane Urquhart was one of the CBC's Canada Reads finalists. While it didn't win, it is the only one of the 5 books I've read (and am likely to read). I quite enjoyed the way she weaves a generational family story with the history of both Ireland and Canada, and then sprinkles in some poetry and magic. I love the lyricism of Urquhart's writing, and found myself easily drawn into the world she portrays. And this is the most magic realism I've seen from a Canadian author (anyone know of other magic realist Canadian lit?). I have to admit, though, that I was disappointed on two counts.

First, I was bothered by the lack of explanation for why the main character is leaving her lakefront home (it is a distinct possibility that she mentions this and I managed to miss it). But without that piece of information, I kept coming up slightly confused. And secondly, it felt to me that she just got tired of storytelling by the end, and the third generation/narrator's life was summed up far too simply. I wanted the same level of story that I got for her grandmother & great-grandmother. I enjoyed it very much. I just wanted there to be a bit more...


Ru by Kim Thuy (translated by Sheila Fischmann) is a simple vignette-style story of a woman who started her life in Vietnam, left as a refugee, and grew up in Quebec. It is elegant and short and rich. I wanted there to be more, but the bareness of the story was also a strength. As I read, I kept thinking about the structure (in a good way) - why she chose this brief style, and whether the stories excluded (or merely hinted at) "matter." Altogether, I loved this book.

Both novels were compelling in their representation of historic national tragedy, the struggle of displacement and immigration, and family dynamics. I am reminded that I am blessed and privileged to live where and when I do - and that this does not entitle me to naivety about the historic or present struggles of many women around the world. In fact, I'd say my access to stories like these reminds me of my obligation to steward that freedom well.

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