'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.)
Unit Suitable For
AC: Years 10–12 (NSW Stages 5–6). However, with some adaptation it could also be used for highly proficient Year 9 students seeking extension.
a writer's obligation to memory, acceptance, ageing, asylum seekers, coming of age, cultural awareness, dealing with the past, ethnicity, family, fate, friendship, historical events, hope, identity, loyalty, mortality, reconciliation, refugees, resilience, sacrifice
Critical and creative thinking, Intercultural understanding, Literacy
Asia and Australia's engagement with Asia
'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.
'We live hyperlinked lives, expected to be switched on and logged in 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Time is a dwindling resource, multitasking is our default setting. We’re constantly reading: online articles, emails, social media posts. But for many of us, this dip-in, dip-out reading feels dissatisfying. We crave deeper engagement.' (Introduction)
'In this article we argue that a cohort of French, Canadian, and Australian authors of Vietnamese descent are adapting postmemory narratives to fit the purposes of the 1.5 generation. Linda Lê, Kim Thúy, and Nam Le each displace the Vietnam War to reimagine in its stead, for the first time in Vietnamese diasporic writing, the trauma of the refugee boat journey. Breaking the silence of parents wont to forget, in short fiction they narrativize shared accounts of flight by sea that have until this time remained the domain of autobiography and memoir. Through a process of spectral recuperation, these children of survivors employ the figure of the child to tell the event of their own refugee becoming. Former child refugees recently come of writerly age across a multilingual global diaspora are thus reappropriating an in-between generation’s collective postmemory to form what we call the sub-genre of “the boat narrative.”' (Publication abstract)
‘This essay takes up the question of literary ethics as a mode of pedagogy and considers the way the contexts of writing and reading bear on the larger and historical and conceptual resonances of literary texts. Nam Le's collection of short stories, The Boat (2008), is an exemplary Australian text that speaks to its global and Asian-Pacific contexts, prompting students to engage with their contemporary world first through specific locations and then through the paradigm of what we call "the literary" or "literature," by which I mean an appreciation of the ways that literature and literary reading persist today despite the extraordinary shifts that we have witnessed in media and cultural literacy. I focus on the opening story of the collection, "Love and Honour and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice," because it explicitly addresses the question of literary ethics - that is, what writing and reading mean in the early twenty-first century—first through the protagonist, a young Vietnamese Australian writer who shares his name with the author, and second through his experience of hearing and reworking a first-person story of trauma told to him by his father. That "Love and Honour" is rich with intertextual associations—notably with the writing of James Joyce, William Faulkner, and Kurt Vonnegut — gives students the opportunity to connect and reconnect with well-known works and to extend their sense of the terrain of the literary.’ (Introduction)
'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)
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.'