Kim Thúy

Kim Thúy, CQ, writer (born 18 September 1968 in Saigon, Vietnam). The winner of several prestigious literary awards for her first novel (Ru), this Quebec writer of Vietnamese origin is known for her short and elegant stories. Her novels deal with the migrant experience and the challenges of adapting to a new culture. Written in French, which Thúy calls her “second mother tongue,” they have been translated into 15 languages.

Kim Th\u00fay
Canadian writer Kim Th\u00fay in Festival America, September 2010.

Arrival in Quebec

At the age of ten, Kim Thúy left Vietnam with her parents and two brothers, fleeing the country’s repressive communist regime. Like more than a million Vietnamese, the Thúys took to the ocean aboard a makeshift boat. After a stay in Malaysia in a camp run by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, the family was resettled in Canada (see Canadian Response to the “Boat People” Refugee Crisis).

Vietnamese boat people, 1978
The flight of Vietnamese refugees began after the fall of Saigon in 1975. In spite of the dangers of unfriendly waters and piracy, tens of thousands took to the South China Sea, and by 1978 the exodus had grown to dramatic proportions. This group of 162 persons arrived in Malaysia on a small boat which sank a few meters from the shore.
Vietnamese refugees arriving in Hong Kong, 1981

The family settled in Granby, Quebec. In this small town in the Eastern Townships, the parents and children learned new cultural codes. Tenderly and humorously, Thúy’s books describe the culture shock and the newcomer’s education about her new cultural milieu: winter and all the pieces of clothing, each more colourful than the last, that have to be worn one on top of the other, the warm welcome from the Québécois (including the affectionate hugs that are in sharp contrast to the Vietnamese-style restraint), the curiosity of new friends, the beauty, but also the difficulties of learning the French language.

Education and Early Career

Thúy studied at the Université de Montréal where she completed a bachelor’s degree in linguistics and translation, and later earned a law degree (1993). She worked not only as a lawyer, but also as a seamstress, cashier, cook and interpreter. She owned a restaurant in Montreal for five years and introduced the city to the cuisine of her native country. Then, fulfilling her childhood ambition, Thúy began writing her first novel.

Ru

Thúy’s first novel, Ru (published by Libre Expression in 2009), tells the story of her family’s long journey from Vietnam to Québec and the discovery of their new cultural milieu. In French, ru means small stream and in Vietnamese it means cradle and to rock. The novel consists of short, moving vignettes about members of her family, among other characters, and recounts all the small ways in which they adapted to their new daily reality. The book also deals with life with an autistic child. Thúy’s first book garnered immediate critical acclaim and earned several prestigious awards, including the Governor General’s Literary Award. A bestseller, Ru has been translated into 15 languages. Sheila Fischman’s English translation of the book was a finalist for the Giller Prize in 2002 (see also Literary Prizes in English).

Kim Th\u00fay
Internationell f\u00f6rfattarscen, 2011

À toi and Mãn

In 2011, Thúy and Pascal Janovjak published a series of letters they had exchanged. À toi (“To You”) was the fruit of a literary love affair between the Vietnamese-Canadian writer and French-Slovakian-Swiss author. Thúy then published the fictional Mãn (Libre Expression, 2013) about a Vietnamese woman who arrived in Quebec as an adult, her mother having married her off to a Vietnamese restaurateur who had already settled there. In November 2013, Thúy was the guest of honour at the Montreal Salon du livre and in February 2014, she became the honorary chairperson of the Outaouais Salon du livre.

Vi and Le secret des Vietnamiennes

In 2016, Thúy completed a new novel inspired by her family history. Vi (Libre Expression) tells the story of a mother’s flight from Saigon with her four children. The novel touches upon the migratory experience, culture shock, and the loss of the country left behind. In August 2016, Thúy took over from storyteller Fred Pellerin as the Quebec representative for Le Robert dictionaries (Le Petit Robert, among others). In 2017, writing as the parent of an autistic child, she was a contributor to the book L’Autisme expliqué aux non-autistes (“Autism Explained to Non-Autistic Persons”) (Trécarré) by Brigitte Harrisson and Lise St-Charles.

Kim Th\u00fay

In October 2017, Thúy wrote Le secret des Vietnamiennes (“Vietnamese Women’s Secret”) (Éditions du Trécarré), a cookbook containing recipes from Vietnam that have been handed down from mother to daughter.

Awards and Honours