LONGLISTED FOR THE 2021 SCOTIABANK GILLER PRIZE
Kim Thúy's Em is a virtuosic novel of profound power and sensitivity, and an enduring affirmation of the greatest act of resistance: love.
In the midst of war, an ordinary miracle: an abandoned baby tenderly cared for by a young boy living on the streets of Saigon. The boy is Louis, the child of a long-gone American soldier. Louis calls the baby em Hồng, em meaning "little sister," or "beloved." Even though her cradle is nothing more than a cardboard box, em Hồng's life holds every possibility.
Through the linked destinies of a family of characters, the novel takes its inspiration from historical events, including Operation Babylift, which evacuated thousands of biracial orphans from Saigon in April 1975, and the remarkable growth of the nail salon industry, dominated by Vietnamese expatriates all over the world. From the rubber plantations of Indochina to the massacre at My Lai, Kim Thúy sifts through the layers of pain and trauma in stories we thought we knew, revealing transcendent moments of grace and the invincibility of the human spirit.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Much like war itself, Montréal-based author Kim Thúy’s novel is tragic and complex. It’s also dotted with moments of incredible optimism. Thúy, a Vietnamese refugee, structures this short novel as a series of scenes that come together to create a realistically chaotic vision of wartime. Em uses vivid, journalistic language to tell the stories of Tâm, Louis, and Em, three young orphans whose lives are shaped by some of the ugliest real-life events of the Vietnam War, like the rape and massacre of Mỹ Lai villagers, or the poisoning of three million Vietnamese during Operation Ranch Hand. Among her unflinching depictions of these atrocities, Thúy also gives us moments of beautiful compassion: an orphaned boy taking care of a baby or a pilot rescuing a child from the carnage. Her book is a haunting depiction of the real cost of war—and a powerful reminder of what people, and love, can survive.