What screams I live in downtown Montreal

Writer Kim Thúy : Two worlds, one voice

Just now, on the way to an interview in a café in downtown Montréal, it happened again. “The taxi driver was in a bad mood and yelled at me about something,” says Kim Thúy after she sat down in a corner of the café. "I wanted to scream back, but just couldn't." Instead, she just laughed out loud. "At some point he couldn't help himself and had to laugh out loud." When the petite woman with the sparkling eyes said this, she burst out laughing again.

This is one of those Kim Thúy moments that many people in Canada tell you about, who have seen the bestselling author personally or on television and then about the joie de vivre rave about the joie de vivre that this woman spreads. The 50-year-old, who fled Saigon with her family after the conquest of South Vietnam by the communist North Vietnam and came to Québec, France as a boat refugee in the early 1980s, is not just a successful writer. She has worked as a translator, lawyer, presenter and restaurant operator and is a regular guest on Canadian talk shows.

The author recently published a cookbook

Above all, however, she personifies a positive success story that fits perfectly into the Canadian credo of multiculturalism and integration through achievement - and spreads an infectious optimism in her books as well as in personal encounters, which apparently has not been broken even by bad experiences. She has processed some of them in three autobiographically inspired novels, most recently in “The Many Names of Love”. She has also published a cookbook enriched with personal anecdotes, which has now been published in German: "The secret of Vietnamese cuisine."

All three novels, which Kim Thúy wrote in her new native language French, basically tell the same story in different variations in a series of short, often bittersweet episodes: A young girl has to leave her home in the turmoil of the Vietnam War and experiences traumatic things , but does not give in and ends up in Canada, where the strangeness gradually gives way to the feeling of having found a new home, even if the life between the cultures brings with it some challenges. The healing power of love - and that of cooking - play a special role in all three books.

"I've taken a lot of liberties"

“I've taken a lot of liberties and put my story together with other people's experiences to tell legible stories,” says Kim Thúy. She carries many memories of her own that have shaped her stories: of the smells of her hometown Saigon, the taste of the food in her family, the clothes of women, the sound of tanks rattling through the streets.

“As a child, you perceive everything more intensely.” However, many of these memories are more sensual, with factual details or when it comes to dialogues, she cannot rely on her memory. That is one of the reasons why she wrote her books from the perspective of fictional first-person narrators. Her own story was similar to that of her main characters, but not as rich in dramatic twists and turns. “I could tell my autobiography on three pages.” In addition, she is not only interested in conveying her own career. "I hope that the success of my books will help create greater awareness of the situation of refugees."

This story has not only appealed to many readers in Canada: Last year, Kim Thúy was one of three nominees who were on the shortlist for the Alternative Nobel Prize in Literature, which was drawn up by international online voting. However, the award went to the French writer Maryse Condé.

It is thanks to the openness of her new home country that she got down to writing at all, says Kim Thúy. "Here you can reinvent yourself as often as you want." Like Vi, the main character of "The Many Names of Love". In this novel, Kim Thúy tells in straightforward sentences about a new beginning in a strange world, in which the main character's family initially cultivates the old traditions: "My mother made sure that the typical smells of Vietnamese cuisine were always in the air", she writes. "It enveloped us in the scent of chopped and roasted lemongrass, which mingled with the crispy skin of the fish, and the young bamboo shoots that were sautéed and dipped in lime fish sauce."

The first-person narrator tries for a long time to meet the family's expectations of herself and the restrictive role model - but the new opportunities to go her own way are more tempting. When the main character, who is studying law like Kim Thúy, passes her exam in Canadian constitutional law, it breaks. “I failed in your upbringing,” the mother tells her when she visits. "I only came to face my failure."

The author relates without bitterness about these points of friction between the family tradition and the own way of the first-person narrators, which can be found in all of Kim Thúy's books. Instead, a friendly sense of humor and self-irony that flashes over and over again run through her work. Perhaps another reason for its success: Thúy also conveys difficult, potentially depressing topics in an entertaining and positive way. "Life is a struggle in which grief leads to defeat", it is said once in her first novel "The Sound of Strangers", in which she also processed many experiences from the difficult everyday life as a mother of an autistic child.

The fact that Kim Thúy did not despair and, unlike many other first-generation immigrants, did not end up in a poorly paid temporary job, but first became a lawyer and then a writer, is part of the success story that is repeatedly told about her in the Canadian media .

In Vietnam she was raised to be quiet and inconspicuous as a girl, especially since under the rule of the communists one wrong word could decide life and death. “It was Canada and Québec that gave me a voice,” says Thúy. Just grumble as loudly as before on the way to the taxi driver's interview, "I still can't do that."

From Monday, Kim Thúy will present her books in Germany. in Berlin (culinary reading, Ratatouille, Ackerstr. 2, 7 pm), then at the Leipzig Book Fair. More: kunstmann.de/veranstaltungen

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