Language and Identity in Kim Thuy’s Ru
Written as a semi-autobiographical series of accounts, Kim Thuy’s Ru offers a poetically realistic portrayal of the Vietnamese refugee experience. It is a work of metamorphosis that takes the novel’s heroin on a rollercoaster ride “from riches to rags to riches” (“from riches to rags to riches”), in a tragic display of war-induced deterioration and consequential success. Similar to the typical immigrant narrative, the narrator, Nguyen An Tinh, highlights language as a barrier that hinders her from situating herself in a foreign space as a ten-year-old refugee in Quebec. My paper will examine the linguistic barriers that catalyze immigrant success, as well as the means by which these barriers are demolished within a setting distorted by war, diaspora, and refuge. It will also examine the significance of family ties and motherhood in the life of the novel’s protagonist.
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Kim Thuy’s choice for a title to her novel foreshadows the main theme of motherhood prevalent throughout the course of An Tinh’s life. Mother figures have undoubtedly played a major role in shaping her personality, both as a child and as an adult. In an interview, Thuy reveals that in her native tongue, Vietnamese, run means “a lullaby, or to lull” and is commonly used by mothers to soothe their child to sleep (“A Refugee’s Multilayered Experience”). From the very beginning, it is evident that Thuy places great emphasis on motherhood and its influence on An Tinh. Furthermore, In her adoptive language, run gives a more inclusive meaning; one that relates to family ties. In French, run means a small stream, a flow potentially of blood. The double entendre in the work’s title conveys the divide in language that permeates the protagonist’s life.
The narrator first introduces herself as Nguyen An Tinh and immediately points to the similarity between her and her mother. The purpose of her existence is to prolong the life of her mother, with whom she s…