Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Nam Le

Herewith, another book recommendation. This one is in the literary fiction category, just in case you've got a hankering for some good short fiction...

The book is called The Boat and the author is Nam Le. I was lucky enough to meet Nam at BEA a couple years back. This was before his book came out. I enjoyed talking with him a bit late into an evening of fine food and free drink, but it was awhile before I got around to reading his collection. As is so often the case, I'm very glad I finally did!

So what do I like about his stories? Each and every one of them is an engaging character study, stories about people living their lives, but with enough happening in them that none of them feel like navel gazing. They're about things, and each story is a trip to a very different place in the world, featuring very different situations and characters.

And that, in a big way, is another thing I love about Nam's work. He's marvelously ambitious. He might - as is mentioned in the first seemingly autobiographical story in the collection - have cashed in on the "ethnic" thing. He's an Australian of Vietnamese origin, an interesting enough identity that he could have played that card effectively to liberally-minded literary readers. Instead, he does something very different. After that opening story about a character that is essentially him, he tells a tale of Colombian assassins, and then one about an aging and ill white artist, and then about a conflict and love story among Australian youths, and then about a Japanese girl during WWII, and then about an American woman caught up in politics and persecution in Iran...

See what I mean? He's all over the globe, and I'd argue he makes each jump with incredible style. At times his stories end with a bit of mystery to them, almost as if the subjects and themes he's working with are larger than he can fit on the page. Other stories - like the title story about Vietnamese refugees - he nails shut to devastating effect.

I got to hang out with him again last month at that Pen/Faulkner event. Good fun. He's working on a novel, and I, for one, am looking forward to it. And just so you know he's not without some interest in the genres... he's on the record as having written a lesbian vampire story! I haven't read it, and it's not in the book. Maybe one day, though...

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Anonymous Ethan Iktho said...

From what you say (and I trust your judgment), what this guy writes seems very interesting indeed.

If it is not already the case, some French editor might be interested to publish him, who knows ?

4:33 PM  
Anonymous Josiah Cadicamo said...

Lols i bet that was a fun story to write . . . or not . . . i couldn't tell you a lesbian vampire story sounds rather normal for our time period. : O, shocking i know.

11:43 AM  
Blogger Bryan Russell said...

I've been hearing a lot of good things about this collection, along with Wells Tower's Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned. Seems a good year for story collections, maybe.

11:26 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

You know, I think there are always good story collections out there. I don't seek them out enough, though. When I do I'm often surprised and pleased. I need to remember to respect the short form!

6:16 PM  

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