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Book Club – Nam Le, The Boat 2 March 2010

Posted by uggclogs in Life.
Tags: ,

I started a book club a while ago, because I have always liked the idea of them. It just made sense – I like reading books, and I like talking to people, so combining them was not really such a far leap.

So, we have done quite a few books now, we try to meet every 5 weeks or so.

But the last book we did left me unsettled.

The Boat, by Vietnamese-Australian author Nam Le, is in fact a collection of seven short stories, which might have made me feel slightly biased already – I don’t particularly enjoy short fiction. I like to delve into a book and be immersed in it for a while.

However, it did start me thinking – the two stories that I liked the most were the ones that were relating to Vietnam and Vietnamese culture and history. Some of the other stories felt like they did not have the same depth. I question whether I feel this way because of my expectations and current interest in Vietnam, living here and all, or whether he could actually write better about topics that he was more closely connected to – like the story about a young Vietnamese writer whose father comes to visit, and the tensions that the son experiences between them (I am not sure whether the father felt the same). This story relies heavily on the traditional interactions between Vietnamese children and their parents (like when the son chooses not to introduce his girlfriend), as well as the common feelings many children have around their parents (like when the son experiences embarrassment at the mess in his apartment, or when he sees his father through other’s eyes).

Yet the story set in South America, about a teenage assassin and his day to day struggle to survive felt to me both cliched and unbelievable – the characters were almost cardboard cutouts for me, complete caricatures with little nuance, based on what someone would imagine that the drug world in South America would be like, rather than someone’s actual knowledge about that life. It felt very ‘City of God’-like, which, to me, has been a story told and retold so many times, that I would like to see some more variance in the narrative.

In other words, I wonder how much of the reader’s own experiences contributes to their understanding of a story. I would guess a whole lot. All the same, I think Nam Le is an interesting writer, and I would love for him to actually write a whole novel length story before I pass judgment on him completely.



1. Bolanka - 3 March 2010

Never, ever think you shouldn’t write. You are a very, very good writer and have a lot to tell. Please, please don’t give it up. I will cross all my fingers, toes, eyes etc that you get it all back. But, if you don’t, maybe wait a while and then get back to re-writing the lost part.

uggclogs - 3 March 2010

Thank you 🙂

uggclogs - 3 March 2010

Thank you, that is a very sweet comment indeed.

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