'You could totally exploit the Vietnamese thing. But instead, you choose to write about lesbian vampires and Colombian assassins, and Hiroshima orphans—and New York painters with haemorrhoids.'
I'm not sure if this is an accurate decsription of the contents of Nam Le's debut collection, The Boat, but I do know that 'the Vietnamese thing' is very much to the fore in at least one of the stories in the book. 'Love and Honour and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice' (from which the quote is taken) was first published in Zoetrope: All-Story, and is a beautifully layered meditation on the nature of memory, identity and creativity. The author's biography on the Zoetrope website applies equally to his narrator, who is also called Nam: 'Nam Le was born in Vietnam and raised in Australia. He practiced as a corporate attorney before coming to America to attend the Iowa Writers' Workshop.' (Keen-eyed readers may even spot a reference in the story to Yiyun Li, a fellow Iowa graduate, and subject of a previous blog post.)
The story begins with the narrator dreaming about a poem he is working on; Le himself writes with the precision of a poet. Take this perfectly wrought sentence: 'On Washington Street, a sudden gust of wind ravaged the elm branches and unfastened their leaves, floating them down thick and slow and soundless.'
The Bridge has just been published in the UK by Canongate. I am looking forward to investigating the rest of the collection, lesbian vampires or not.
- ► 2009 (14)