After two ‘false starts’ (when I start a book I decide not to continue reading), I am finally attending to a book that has deserved my attention for quite some time. Not only does Nam Le’s The Boat come with heavy praise (and this time deservedly), but also was a loan from a friend. His recent hospital trip made me a little sentimental. Pulled The Boat out in short order and found myself pretty spellbound, despite the lateness of the term.
The short stories in this collection really are wonderful. They each explore journeys or a sense of being an outsider. Tehran Calling stands out as a Western woman visits a friend in Iran and is confronted by the real danger of their politics. Cartagena is the very moving story of a young assassin called upon to kill his mentor. But most powerful are the two stories that ‘bookend’ this collection, both touching on Le’s Vietnamese heritage. The first of these appears to be somewhat autobiographical. A young writer, struggling for what to write, attempts to write the story of his father’s experiences in Vietnam. The final story explores the plight of boat people left waiting in the water for some country to claim them. Perfectly timed given the government’s latest ridiculous attempts to avoid taking any kind of responsibility for this issue.