“Just like tender, strong and graceful Vietnamese silk threads, Kim Thúy masterfully weaves us through Vietnam’s 20th-century history while binding us to the lives of its people so that their experiences expand our worldview. EM is an original, innovative, poetic and haunting novel that deserves to be read, shared, studied and discussed.”
“Expertly handled by her long-time translator, Sheila Fischman, the text juxtaposes horror and beauty to lasting effect. The prose is poised and elegant even when describing atrocity. … This is Thúy’s most ambitious and affecting book yet. Both sprawling and intimate, Em amplifies her storytelling and is a moving memorial to survivors and those who perished alike.”
“A constellation of connected characters provides a snapshot of Vietnam and the Vietnamese diaspora in North America from French colonization to life after the war.
Thúy, who was born in Vietnam and lives in Quebec, delivers a series of interconnected vignettes in her new novel. The book is in conversation with a drawing by Quebecois artist Louis Boudreault that appears toward the end of the text and shows a box with many threads attached. The characters — a French rubber plantation owner and the girl he takes from the fields to be his wife, their daughter, her nanny, and an outwardly expanding roster of other people — embody the overlapping, connected threads in the painting. The book starts with an explanation of the title: “The word em refers to the little brother or little sister in a family; or the younger of two friends; or the woman in a couple. I like to think the word em is the homonym of the verb aimer, “to love,” in French, in the imperative: aime.” In the narrative, small movements have large effects; love is both healing and misguided. Thúy moves the reader from a rubber plantation to the village of My Lai; from Charlie Company’s massacre to Operation Babylift and the experiences of orphans adopted by American families; from Saigon to nail salons and the cancer-causing chemicals found at both rubber plantations and salons. Characters appear and reappear as the threads weave together in economical but potent prose. Thúy troubles the line between fiction and nonfiction and their different ideas of truth: “In this book, truth is fragmented, incomplete, unfinished, in both time and space.” The book is human-focused and not a historical account; in the end, it feels like a work of visual and literary art at once.
A brief, moving meditation on the nature of truth, memory, humanity, and violence: a powerful work of art.”
“Somewhere between autobiographical novel and prose poetry, Em is a portrait of Vietnamese identity and the ways violence, place, and family can act as a profound training ground for what it means to be human. Emma-Jade and Louis are orphaned amidst the crumbling of Saigon. A product of wartime violence, Thúy intricately explores notions of the diaspora through each character’s connection to displacement and fate, deftly showing humanity’s resilience. Em is a beautifully crafted meditation on what it means to be alive.”
“Translated from French, Thúy's latest, semi-autobiographical novel traces its roots from wartime Vietnam to modern day Quebec, exploring the resonating effects of Vietnamese immigrant identity in North America. After reading Em in both French and English, I was astounded by Fischman's translation. It's beautifully done, capturing the essence and emotion of the original text while bringing forth new meaning. This is an absolute powerhouse of a novel, on par with Crying in H-Mart and Homegoing.”
“A novel like Em is an interesting case study in how [the] embrace of both fact and fiction, this refusal of one simple definitive truth—be it the truth of a newspaper headline or the truth of a plot itself—can still be subversive. When trying to portray something as destructive as war—and, in particular, the Vietnam War—how the hell is a writer like Thúy supposed to do so without incorporating a few formally destructive elements of her own?...Threads overlap and spill over one another, nothing is tied up neatly, and there’s a power in Thúy’s refusal to weave them together for her audience, a power in refusing to make an argument as to why her audience should care. We should care because this is a book about human lives, and what is fiction if not an art that recognizes and advocates for the dignity of human life? We should care because of the list at the book’s end, a list of what the war created and yet of which there are no exact figures: “of orphans; of widows; of aborted dreams; of broken hearts.””
“In Em, desire and violence are held taut on the ends of a carefully constructed linguistic string. It’s a testament to the skill of both the author, Kim Thúy, and her long-time translator, Sheila Fischman, that from the first word to the last the string never snags.”