Author: Kim Thuy
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: Sep. 2021 (read Oct. 2021)
This is going to be a short review to match a short book. Em was the last of the Giller Prize nominees that I read. I’ve seen the author’s other book, Ru, floating around the Canadian Lit scene for years and decided to give this one a try when I saw it on the longlist. I was intrigued by the time period, ‘Operation Babylift’, and the impact of the Vietnam War on the beauty salon industry in North America, as detailed in the synopsis.
I’ll say upfront that of all the nominees I read, this was my least favourite. I did still like it and was impressed by how much history Thuy was able to cover in such a short book – I thought it was a solid 3 star read. But it was an ambitious novel and I felt it just didn’t deliver on what I thought I was getting from the book jacket. The book is told mostly in prose, which makes for a quick reading experience, which is exacerbated by how quickly Thuy jumps from topic to topic.
I can see why it would be nominated for it’s unique style and it is perceptive. She says a lot with a limited amount of words, which is definitely a skill, the style just didn’t quite work for me. I think the first part of the novel is the strongest, which focuses on the My Lai massacre. This really drew me into the book and it was interesting the associations Thuy made to move the story along. I just wanted more from the rest of the narrative and didn’t find the part of the story set in America to be as tightly executed. It almost worked, I just wanted a bit more from it.
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