The Boat by Nam Le

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(Age: Senior) This is an offering of invigorating and sometimes harrowing short stories by Vietnamese born Nam Le, whose family fled Vietnam in 1979, ahead of the northern Communist forces. Growing up in Melbourne, Nam Le knows the divided loyalties of someone living where they are not born. He gives us stories of homecoming and being a tourist in New York, of seeing his father after an absence of three years, of truthfulness, of braving the South China Seas, of Tehran and Melbourne, bringing a whiff of the exotic wherever they are set.
The first story tells of a father's visit when the writer is living in Iowa. The disunity between the two men after an absence of three years, is compared with his writer's block, an anxious time, made more impossible by the forth coming deadline. Suffering writer's block, people give him ideas about writing. Ethnic writing seems to be the rage, so cash in on your boat people stories, some say. The unflattering suggestions of his friends, undermines what he has already written and published, but he is again taken back to his childhood in Melbourne, where his harsh father exerted a discipline born of anger. But deadline approaching, he resorts to the stories of his youth, of the Vietnamese men meeting at this house, of telling stories of their youth, of the problems in his own family home, where he and his father bristled against each other. When the father reads his words, he offers to tell him the real story and does so, but the story written is burnt, further breaking the threads between the two men. This first story is a captivating look at father son relationships and the disparity between generations.
In Cartagena, the setting of the story is in the appalling corruption of drug soaked Colombia, where two men are discussing their contract to kill their target. The youth of the men is underlined by their innocent questions as they hustle the victim to the ground, in preparation for his murder.
Each story is most unusual in its perspective, and the glowing imagery makes the reader want to stop and go back to read the line again. Senior students will find these an accessible group of stories to read and discuss.
Fran Knight