Tuesday, April 24, 2018

11th Canadian Challenge - 19th review - Vi

I'm sure that the critical consensus is that Kim Thúy's Vi is a raging success, the work of a master miniaturist perhaps, but I am left wondering where's the there there.  And at the risk of being completely unfair, I believe that the law of diminishing returns has struck hard in this case.  Thúy's first novel, Ru, was about Vietnamese immigrants coming to Montreal and was sort of a typical affair, mixing tragedy and hope.  Her second novel, Mãn, focused far more on the culinary adventures of a Vietnamese immigrant trapped in a loveless, arranged marriage.  Vi borrows heavily from these two, but somehow seems much slighter.  There is some tragedy along the way, as they escape from Vietnam, but it doesn't directly impact anyone in Vi's family but rather her extended family and a family friend.  There is quite the focus on food throughout Vi, particularly when discussing the meals that Vi's mother made for her father (that basically brought him to marry her in the first place) and then Vi's sister-in-law's meals for her husband.  No question there are the seeds of feminist critique of Vietnamese patriarchal society, but it doesn't go very far.


While Vi is technically a first generation immigrant, she shows just a bit of the resistance to the older order.  She ends up sort of following an impractical career path (she initially wants to be a translator, perhaps at the UN) but becomes a lawyer instead of a doctor or engineer, which disappoints her mother.  From time to time, we see Vi's mother dropping by to say how she (Vi) has caused her (the mother) to lose face, but this just doesn't have much impact.  We don't see the earlier conflict, or even the moments when Vi goes down some alternative path than what she ought to be doing.  The upshot is that it appears Vi is just floating through life, not really taking charge of any of her own decisions.  Maybe that was the point, but I found it disappointing.  Anyway, I might have been more accepting of that stylistic decision, but I found the ending incredibly disappointing, since the novel draws to a close leaving two important lose ends completely unresolved.  So not a novel (really a novella) that worked for me.  I'll probably circle back and read Ru, but I'm not expecting to read any of her other books unless they are a clear departure from her work to date.

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