'In the magnificent opening story, "Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice," a young writer is urged by his friends to mine his father's experiences in Vietnam - and what seems at first a satire on turning one's life into literary commerce becomes a transcendent exploration of homeland, and the ties between father and son. "Cartagena" provides a visceral glimpse of life in Colombia as it enters the mind of a fourteen-year-old hit man facing the ultimate test. In "Meeting Elise" an ageing New York painter mourns his body's decline as he prepares to meet his daughter on the eve of her Carnegie Hall debut. And with graceful symmetry, the final, title story returns to Vietnam, to a fishing trawler crowded with refugees where a young woman's bond with a mother and her small son forces both women to a shattering decision.' (From the author's website.)
'A young Vietnamese-Australian named Nam, in his final year at the famed Iowa Writers' Workshop, is trying to find his voice on the page. When his father, a man with a painful past, comes to visit, Nam's writing and sense of self are both deeply changed.
'Love and Honour and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice is a deeply moving story of identity, family and the wellsprings of creativity, from Nam Le's multi-award-winning collection The Boat.' (From the publisher's website, 2012 Penguin publication.)
A young girl in war-time Hiroshima tries to repress her loneliness and longing for her family by clinging to nationalist propaganda.
'Australian short fiction collections which are self-consciously and explicitly transnational have risen to prominence during the past decade. Nam Le’s celebrated collection The Boat (2008) has been followed by Ali Alizadeh’s Transactions (2013), Maxine Beneba-Clarke’s Foreign Soil (2014) and Ceridwen Dovey’s Only the Animals (2014). All these books are ambitious, grandtour collections, organising themselves in ways that emphasise disparate locations around the globe. They are marked by precocious writing styles, a predilection for distinct and distinctive voices, rapid or jolting movements between specific yet diverse situations, a thematisation of
‘the global’, as well as holistic or in some cases totalising structures. The collections by Le, Alizadeh and Beneba-Clarke are accompanied by metafictive frames which foreground the idea of writing as a creative and urgent act in a globalised world. Such transnational short fiction may find immediate precursors in writers like Jhumpa Lahiri, whose Unaccommodated Earth
explores familial migrations and double migrations and Daniel Alarcon whose War by Candlelight depicts intense and specific locations from Lima to New York.' (Author's introduction)
'This paper presents a number of key similarities between Nam Le’s story ‘Halflead Bay’ in The Boat and Tim Winton’s 2004 collection of short stories The Turning. Indeed the scale and type of these similarities indicates more than a subconscious attempt at creating what could be considered a quintessentially regional Australian voice. There seems to be mimicry, counterfeit or the call of the lyrebird at play in this story. Picking up Ken Gelder’s ideas of citation and ventriloquism from his 2010 discussion of proximate reading, alongside Connor's discussion of ventriloquism in Dumdstruck, this paper considers the implications of Le’s attempts to ‘out-Winton’ Winton in ‘Halflead Bay.’ Of particular relevance here is Le’s own exploration of ventriloquism and accents in his Wheeler Centre presentation ‘Voices from Elsewhere’, as well the attention he pays to accents, location and problematic authenticity in The Boat’s opening story.' (Publication abstract)
Written for the Reading Australia project, this essay serves as an introduction to Nam Le's The Boat. Cole discusses how the book 'offers a new conversation about the Vietnam War and its aftermath. The collection encompasses a diverse geography, from Iran to Colombia, the United States to Australia, Japan and the South China Sea, yet the Vietnam War is an assertive presence too in the collection’s first and last stories, "Love and Honour and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice" and "The Boat".' Cole discusses the 'literature of emigration,' gives a synopsis of each of the collection's stories, and examines the structural format of the collection.
Kakutani asserts that the opening story, '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.'
Kunzru suggests in this review that 'The Boat is transparently a product of the increasingly formalized milieu in which American writers train — a well-wrought collection that, in its acute self-consciousness, trails a telltale whiff of 'the industry' that is its initial concern, of the 'heap of fellowship and job applications' the fictional Le needs 'to draft and submit' when he’s interrupted by his father. 'Ethnic lit' is unhappily what emerges when identity politics head into the marketing meeting [...]. Le is starting to grapple with the subtleties of authenticity, but one comes away feeling that it’s not really his subject, that he has a future as a very different kind of writer.'
This interview discusses self-consciousness in literature, the differences in expectation that readers bring to short stories as compared to novels, the form of the stories in The Boat, and how the book came to be published.