Combined Reviews: The Boat by Nam Le

the_boat.jpg Reviews of The Boat by Nam Le
Hamish Hamilton

From the publisher's page:
The Boat will take you everywhere. In 1979, Nam Le's family left Vietnam for Australia, an experience that inspires the first and last stories in The Boat. In between, however, Le's imagination lays claim to the world. The Boat takes us from a tourist in Tehran to a teenage hit man in Columbia; from an aging New York artist to a boy coming of age in a small Victorian fishing town; from the city of Hiroshima just before the bomb is dropped to the haunting waste of the South China Sea in the wake of another war. Each story uncovers a raw human truth. Each story is absorbing and fully realised as a novel. Together, they make up a collection of astonishing diversity and achievement.
Heidi Maier in "The Courier-Mail": "In this, his ambitious and compelling debut collection of short stories, Australian expatriate writer Nam Le blurs the boundaries between fact and fiction with an ease that might be disturbing were it not so beautifully executed...Occasionally, parts of Le's stories can feel more like student exercises in characterisation or plot than fully realised works of short fiction, but when he succeeds he does so with an astonishing deftness and originality."
James Ley in "The Age": "This is a remarkably accomplished collection, not merely on account of its uncommon breadth, but for its consistently high level of craftsmanship. Each of its seven stories is, in its own way, a substantial and well-developed piece of writing...Indeed, if there is a criticism to be made of this collection it is the relatively mild one that among the various modes and settings it attempts, there are some that are more successfully realised than others."
Michiko Kakutani in "The New York Times": "[The title story of this collection], like many in The Boat, catches people in moments of extremis, confronted by death or loss or terror (or all three) and forced to grapple at the most fundamental level with who they are and what they want or believe. Whether it's the prospect of dying at sea or being shot by a drug kingpin or losing family members in a war, Nam Le's people are individuals trapped in the crosshairs of fate, forced to choose whether they will react like deer caught in the headlights, or whether they will find a way to confront or disarm the situation."
Michael McGaha in "The San Francisco Chronicle": "You may never have heard of Nam Le, but with the publication of his first collection of short stories, The Boat, you can expect to hear much more about him in the future. Nam Le was born in Vietnam, grew up in Australia and worked as a corporate lawyer before coming to the United States to attend the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Not yet 30, he is already an extraordinarily accomplished and sophisticated writer."
Heller McAlpin in "The Christian Science Monitor": "The opening story in Nam Le's debut collection, The Boat, is as dazzling an introduction to a writer's work as I've read..."Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice" begins as a metastory about a blocked, Vietnamese-born student at the Iowa Writer's Workshop. His estranged father visits from Australia just when he's struggling with his last assignment of the semester. What first appears to be a story about not knowing what to write-- yawn -- becomes, through sophisticated literary legerdemain, a devastatingly powerful exploration of a fraught father-son relationship and the son's gradual understanding of how his father's brutal wartime experiences at the hands of Americans affected them both."
Peggy Hughes in "Scotland on Sunday": "Nam Le takes us around the world in 271 wince-making, heart-breaking pages of a debut collection disarming for its grace and notable for its incisive, memorable prose. Containing deft slices of portraiture which feel like they've been taken from larger canvases, his stories touch upon fragmented lives of hardship, with assurance, tenderness and an honest eye to the capriciousness of reality."

Short Notices
Readings: "There is something audacious about an author who, in their first collection of stories, moves between six continents, yet Vietnamese-Australian writer Nam Le navigates the globe confidently and convincingly...As a collection of stories Nam Le's The Boat is certainly impressive; for a debut collection, it is exceptional."
Web Wombat: "These are very well written poignant tales that would position many a reader outside their comfort zone. Don't read this if you are looking for happy endings. Be prepared for the dark side of life where emotions plummet the depths and all seems desperate."

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer in "Bookninja" magazine.
Michael Harry in "The Advertiser".
Angela Meyer on the "Literary Minded" weblog.
Michael Williams in "The Sydney Morning Herald".

Profiles of the author
"The Australian" [PDF file]
"The New York Times"

Le won the Dylan Thomas Prize for this collection of stories.
"Publisher's Weekly" named the book as one of their Best Fiction Books of 2008. named it as #29 in their Editor's Picks: Top 100 Books.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on November 19, 2008 12:52 PM.

2008 Patrick White Award was the previous entry in this blog.

Best Books of the Year 2008 #3 - "The Spectator" is the next entry in this blog.

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