Canadian author Kim Thúy delights in people and books — and she speaks in the lyrical tones of a woman who feasts on words.
“Montreal, to me, if I have to use a picture, it’s like a young beautiful girl so free on her bicycle with a summer dress and military boots,” she told Global News.
The 49-year-old’s poetic view of this city is a far cry from her memories of where she’s from.
Thúy was born in South Vietnam in 1968. The country was at war and by the time she was seven years old, the country’s capital, Saigon — now known as Ho Chi Minh City — fell.
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Like hundreds of other families, her family fled by boat to a refugee camp in Cambodia, where they were stuck for three years.
“All those places basically take away your voice. You can no longer speak or your voice is no longer heard,” she recalled.
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Thúy said she was able to find her voice — and a new place to call home — when she arrived in Quebec at the age of 10.
“We were arriving from a refugee camp where we slept next to excrement. Then 24 hours later, you arrive in Quebec and everything is clean,” she told Global News.
“We stepped out and we were dirty, ugly, stinky — all the bad adjectives that you can think about, but these people didn’t hesitate for one second to take us in.”
“From the first moment, people are going, ‘what would you like to do today?’ ‘Which colour is your favourite colour?’ ‘Which food do you like to eat?’ All of a sudden, you’re forced to say what you like and you’re forced to use your voice to have an opinion to draw yourself to become yourself.”
Thúy’s path to writing was not a straight line; she was a lawyer, a seamstress and a restaurant owner.
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She now has five books in publication and her first, Ru, won the Governor General’s Award for fiction; it has been translated into dozens of languages.
“If I stayed in Vietnam, I don’t think I would have the opportunity to write, to have all these culture in me, to own the French culture and I even claim a little bit of owning our Canadian English culture,” she mused.
“Beauty will save us from ourselves — and I think this is exactly the time when we need beauty. We should never be scared of using beauty to talk about atrocity and horror because if we don’t see beauty, we won’t try to look for it and preserve it.”
There are so many Great Montrealers around us. If you know someone who should be profiled as part of Global News’ Greater Montreal campaign, don’t forget to nominate them!