This book had been receiving such good reviews, I couldn't help myself but purchase it, particularly as it is the debut book from an Australian author, Nam Le. I was in a reading slump when I started it, and I am so grateful to Le because this wonderful book was able to catch my attention and pull me out of it.
The Boat is a collection of short stories, which is certainly not something that I would normally read. These, however, are more special and unique than the short stories you would normally read. There are seven in total, and each is based in a different part of the world, including Australia, Tehran and Japan. It is not a collection of happy stories, but this makes them all the more special. They are all about human suffering and our reactions in the face of adversity. There are many poignant moments in amoungst all of the stories, almost bringing me to tears on several occasions. Le is really able to capture the pain that these characters are feeling and convey this to his readers very keenly.
Each individual story is cleverly crafted. They don't really feel like stand alone short stories, more like they are excerpts from a bigger narrative. Perhaps this is because they are all woven so tightly together that it almost feels like you are reading a novel rather than a collection of short stories. I think that what Le really conveys through this collection is that even our own individual stories are part of a bigger world narrative; we are all connected by our common experiences of suffering and pain and hope, even if the source of those experiences are different.
The first short story, "Love and Honour and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice" is a little autobiographical. It is written from the perspective from an aspiring author, Nam, who decides to write the story of how is father survived a massacre during the Vietnam War. In writing this short story he comments on people's attitude toward "ethic literature", and this discussion is quite thought provoking.
Le himself was smuggled to Australia by his parents on a fishing boat, making him what is colloquially (offensively) known in Australia as a 'boat person'. Indeed, the final story is about the harrowing journey of a group of 'boat people' coming to Australia in an old fishing boat, and the harshness of the picture that he paints is heart wrenching.
(Please note: This review was first posted at Book Lovers Inc. Head on over to check out a great blog)
What kind of read is this?
A quick read, but it's like reading a tapestry if you could do such a thing. Very international.
Do I recommend this book?
Yes. Even to people who don't like short stories. It is something different that it would be great for people to try.
Do I recommend buying this book?
I am glad that I have it on my shelf, but I accept that it won't be necessary for everyone to own it.