Friday, November 20, 2020

How to Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Tammavongsa

 I almost didn't read this book for two reasons. First, in recent years I have been disappointed in the Giller winner. And, second, it is a collection of short stories and I generally prefer novels. But, I'm very glad I overcame those hesitations and decided to read this one. In my view it is definitely deserving of the Giller.

The short stories are all about immigrants to Canada from Laos, though they certainly describe a universal immigrant experience. They are told from many perspectives - the school aged girl who is teased because her father gave her the wrong pronunciation of knife; a boxer who must quit the sport and finds a job in his sister's nail salon; a young girl who helps her mother pick worms on a farm; another young girl whose mother is infatuated with Randy Travis; an older woman who has an affair with her much younger neighbour; and a school bus driver whose wife is having an affair with her boss.

What all of the characters have in common is their striving to survive in a new world - facing obstacles of language, poverty, and underemployment. But none of them give up despite the difficulties - and they are generally very devoted to at least one person in their family. Their resilience made them very likeable characters and the focus on the small details which make up an immigrant's life made for engaging reading.

I certainly recommend this collection of stories.

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