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.