WINNER OF THE 2020 SCOTIABANK GILLER PRIZE
WINNER OF THE 2021 TRILLIUM BOOK AWARD
FINALIST FOR THE 2021 NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD, the PEN AMERICA OPEN BOOK AWARD, and the DANUTA GLEED AWARD
#1 NATIONAL BESTSELLER
Named one of Time's Must-Read Books of 2020, and featuring stories that have appeared in Harper's, Granta, The Atlantic, and The Paris Review, this revelatory book of fiction from O. Henry Award winner Souvankham Thammavongsa establishes her as an essential new voice in Canadian and world literature. Told with compassion and wry humour, these stories honour characters struggling to find their bearings far from home, even as they do the necessary "grunt work of the world."
A young man painting nails at the local salon. A woman plucking feathers at a chicken processing plant. A father who packs furniture to move into homes he'll never afford. A housewife learning English from daytime soap operas. In her stunning Giller Prize-winning debut book of fiction, Souvankham Thammavongsa focuses on characters struggling to make a living, illuminating their hopes, disappointments, love affairs, acts of defiance, and above all their pursuit of a place to make their own. In spare, intimate prose charged with emotional power and a sly wit, she paints an indelible portrait of watchful children, wounded men, and restless women caught between cultures, languages, and values. As one of Thammavongsa's characters says, "All we wanted was to live." And in these stories, they do—brightly, ferociously, unforgettably.
A daughter becomes an unwilling accomplice in her mother's growing infatuation with country singer Randy Travis. A former boxer finds a chance at redemption while working at his sister's nail salon. A school bus driver must grapple with how much he's willing to give up in order to belong. And in the title story, a young girl's unconditional love for her father transcends language.
Tender, uncompromising, and fiercely alive, How to Pronounce Knife establishes Souvankham Thammavongsa as one of the most important voices of her generation.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Native English speakers know that “knife” is pronounced with a silent k—but for immigrants, knowing this kind of language quirk is far from given. That sense of wonder and confusion is the driving force behind Toronto-based poet Souvankham Thammavongsa’s arresting debut short-story collection. Each of her 14 tales focus on the experience of Laotian immigrant families in North America, highlighting not just language barriers but cultural differences—there’s one amusing and poignant story about a husband trying to understand his wife’s fascination with country music star Randy Travis. Other stories can be downright gutting, like when a farmworker mother wrestles with the awkwardness of her relationship with her businesswoman daughter. How to Pronounce Knife may focus on the Laotian experience in America, but the profound emotional weight of these stories is universal.
Poet Thammavongsa (Cluster) makes her fiction debut with this sharp and elegant collection that focuses on the hopes, desires, and struggles of Lao immigrants and refugees in an unnamed English-speaking city. In one of the best stories, "Slingshot," a 70-year-old woman experiences a sexual reawakening with her 32-year-old neighbor, Richard: "It was the start of summer and I wanted something to happen to me." In "Randy Travis," a seven-year-old daughter is made to write hundreds of letters to country singer Randy Travis after her mother who can't write in English becomes obsessed with him, and watches her father wear cowboy boots and flannel in an attempt to draw his wife's attention. In "Mani Pedi," a former boxer begins working at his sister's nail salon ("It amazed him to see clients transformed. It was like what happened in the ring, but in reverse.") and pines after a wealthy white client. In "A Far Distant Thing," two 12-year-old girls have a short but meaningful friendship before they lose touch and their lives take different paths. Thammavongsa's brief stories pack a punch, punctuated by direct prose that's full of acute observations: in the final story, about a mother and her 14-year-old daughter picking worms at a hog farm, those laboring in the field "looked like some rich woman had lost a diamond ring and everyone had been ordered to find it." This is a potent collection.)
Je viens de découvrir cette auteure, à l’écriture tendre et réaliste, donc triste comme la réalité qu’elle exprime, celle des réfugiés laotiens au Canada. On devine bien le monde dans lequel vivent ces personnages, bien que l’auteure se concentre surtout sur leur univers psychologique. Je ne peux que comparer cette oeuvre à celle de l’un des mes auteurs préférés, David Adams Richard.
Hard to put down
I like how you didn’t have to know much about the story characters for you to fall into the short stories. They ended so eloquently and yet you kept wanting more but couldn’t wait to read the next one. Was a refreshing read!
Not what I expected but it kept my attention!