The Boat by Nam Le

28 September, 2009

The Boat by Nam Le

The Boat by Nam Le has garnered critical praise from highly acclaimed literary critics such as Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times since it’s publication in 2008.

I like my short stories and often read them in the bath or just before I sleep, often interspersing them between my longer novels. They provide a welcome relief when my concentration levels are low. Not that they are easier to read, just that they provide the right level of enjoyment and sustenance for my mind when I am hungry for some short, but highly effective, fiction. It is often said that short stories are the hardest form of fiction to write. They need to keep their brevity, their conciseness and still provide that crucial hit. A really good short story should keep you hooked and leave you stunned.

And Nam Le’s collection does just that. I started with his titular story The Boat which was also the final story in the book. And it left me stunned. Le’s prose is beautiful. There is nothing hurried or contrived, and his words flow off the page and into your mind so easily that you have to stop and remind yourself that you are actually reading. Like Kakutani, I felt that not all of his stories worked, but the two that were about ‘ethnic literature’, part autobiographical, part fiction, really made me think and even made me cry. His first story, Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice, and his last, The Boat, were my favourite, and were about Vietnam, family and growing up as a third culture kid with issues of identity and belonging in another country. The stories were poignant and soulful.

If I could write like him, I would die happy. I can’t wait to read his next book.

7 Responses to “The Boat by Nam Le”

  1. mee Says:

    That’s a very high praise you gave. This book won several awards in Australia and I’ve been coveting it for a while. Though I’m not exactly a fan of short stories, I would love to try this book!

    • chasingbawa Says:

      I read a lot of good reviews about this book too but wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. I guess it exceeded my expectations and caught me by surprise! As you can tell, I loved it. I also have my eye on Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth.

  2. Gabriel Says:

    Hi. It’s great to see The Boat getting some attention outside of Australia, where it has achieved great success. I also loved Love and Honour and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice, as well as Meeting Elise. I’m really interested to see where Le goes from here. I did a review of the boat on my blog, if you’re interested.

  3. Mel u Says:

    I received a Kindle gift card today and am thinking about buying this book as part of my purchases-your very intelligent review was very helpful

  4. itoeri Says:

    I’ve read the Japanese translation a few months ago, and was so impressed about the variety of voices he has! I wouldn’t have expected a story like ‘Cartagena’ from an author with Vietnamese roots. As you say, a few of the stories made me struggle to finish, but loved ‘Meeting Elise’ and ‘Tehran Calling’. ‘The Boat’ was exclusively gripping, of course.
    I gave the Japanese copy to a staff at a cafe I was in while finishing it, cos he was interested in what I was reading and told me about his favorite books – which I thought was sweet. So, I’ve recently got the English version to find out what the original is like.

    • sakura Says:

      I think he grew up in Australia and must have traveled. But yes, there was such a variety of stories which is the great thing about short story collections!

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