From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. From a Colombian slum to the streets of Tehran, seven characters in seven stories struggle with very particular Swords of Damocles in Pushcart Prize winner Le's accomplished debut. In Halflead Bay, an Australian mother begins an inevitable submission to multiple sclerosis as her teenage son prepares for the biggest soccer game of his life. The narrator of Meeting Elise, a successful but ailing artist in Manhattan, mourns his dead lover as he anticipates meeting his daughter for the first time since she was an infant. The opening Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice features a Vietnamese character named Nam who is struggling to complete his Iowa Writer's Workshop master's as his father comes for a tense visit, the first since an earlier estrangement shattered the family. The story's ironies—You could totally exploit the Vietnamese thing, says a fellow student to Nam—are masterfully controlled by Le, and reverberate through the rest of this peripatetic collection. Taken together, the stories cover a vast geographic territory (Le was born in Vietnam and immigrated to Australia) and are filled with exquisitely painful and raw moments of revelation, captured in an economical style as deft as it is sure. (May)
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“Nam Le's lyricism and emotional urgency lend his portraits enormous visceral power. . . . A remarkable collection.” —The New York Times“Nam Le is extraordinary, a writer who must - who will - be heard. . . .The Boat's vision and its power are timeless.” —Mary Gaitskill“Astounding. . . . A refreshingly diverse and panoramic debut.” —Los Angeles Times Book Review“Extraordinarily accomplished and sophisticated. . . . Moving and unforgettable.” —San Francisco Chronicle“Wonderful stories that snarl and pant across our crazed world . . . . Nam Le is a heartbreaker, not easily forgotten.” —Junot Díaz“Lyrical . . . Powerful and assured. . . . [Le's] kaleidoscopic world view is on display throughout the stories, which seamlessly blend cultural traditions, accents and landscapes that run from lush to barren.” —The Miami Herald“Stunning. . . .These stories are so beautifully written and cross emotional barriers of time and place with such clear vision and strong command of language we can only wonder with awe what Nam Le will offer us next.” —The Oregonian“A collection that takes the reader across the globe. From Iowa to Colombia to Australia and Iran, the characters in Le’s stories each shape the world around them. In each story, the protagonists create a new atmosphere. . . .While Le is a writer who seems to be interested in the issues of the world, he is also a writer interested in the young. . . . Le does not downplay the lives of his children as fiction often does when portraying younger characters but presents them with a seriousness and intelligence that is refreshing. . . . The Boat is an impressive debut from a writer with a lot more to give. A writer to be remembered.”—Marion Frisby, The Denver Post“Powerful . . . Lyrical . . . Devastating . . . A harsh and masterful effort, each tale a clean shot through the heart, the aim true. In seven stories covering six continents and an ocean, Le delivers a powerful and assured vision that offers a clear look at his impressive talents. . . . Le is the sort of writer who taps directly into the vein of desperation and offers no shelter. He’s not for the faint of heart, but the reward for soldiering on in the toughness of his world is the welcome recognition of a voice clear and brave.”—Amy Driscoll, The Miami Herald“Captivating . . . An uncannily mature debut [that] distills time, experience . . . There’s a streak of the naturalist in Nam Le that looks back to such writers as Emile Zola, Stephen Crane and Theodore Dreiser. . . . It is a searing portrait of survival, love and sacrifice, which seems revelatory and wise. It is [Le’s] ethnic story that transcends ethnicity.”—Robert L. Pincus, San Diego Union-Tribune“[The Boat] takes the reader from the South China Sea to Medellin, Colombia, to Tehran and beyond–places that, in many cases, Nam Le has never visited. . . . What struck me about [‘Tehran Calling’] was how vivid the imagery of the city of Tehran appears–the Shiite Ashura procession, with the self-flagellation, the rutted roads, [he] talks about the stale fluorescent writing at the airport . . . [Nam Le] writes so convincingly about these places [he’s] never been to . . .”—Guy Raz, correspondent, All Things Considered“Brilliant . . . The Boat will quicken your pulse and awaken every nerve in your being. For avid readers who have hungered for stories that can transport them physically, intellectually and emotionally, stories so well-structured and narrated they appear to reinvent the form itself, the literary American Idol is Nam Le. [His] dynamic prose and remarkable range of subjects and points of view defy explanation. . . . There is so much to say about Nam Le’s genius that it would take a book and even that may not be enough. With The Boat, he defeats time, hollowness and cliché with every story, earning him the right to reap sheaves, buckets, reservoirs of generous, unabashed praise.”—Denise Gess, Raleigh News & Observer“Twenty-nine-year-old Nam Le demonstrates the aesthetic ambition and sentence-making chops of a much more experienced writer. . . . Each moment of technical brio [in the opening story] deepens the dramatization of the all-but-unspeakable power of love between parent and child. By the end, any perceptive reader will agree that the ‘world could be shattered by a small stone dropped like a single syllable.’ . . . The plot unfolds with remorseless logic, harsh beauty, and an almost unbearable tenderness that reminded me of Dubliners. [The story’s] scenes [are] exact in their details and gorgeous in their musicality . . . I’ve been telling friends about The Boat for weeks now, saying ‘This guy’s got it.’ Now I’m telling you. Pass it on.” —John Repp, Cleveland Plain Dealer “Astonishing . . . Not yet 30, Le effortlessly gives all seven tales in The Boat a different register, structure, vocabulary and tone.. . . . The miracle of these stories is how their author, by sleight of hand and virtue of skill, puts his searching, observant voice wherever he likes.”—John Freeman, Newark Star-Ledger“Moving . . . 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. . . . Nam Le digs beneath the surface and unfailingly sees the bundles as human in these accomplished stories about the terrible reverberations of violence.”—Heller McAlpin, The Christian Science Monitor “It is uncommon that a writer’s first book can be described as masterful, especially when the author is not yet 30 years old. But *The Boat, an extraordinary collection of seven short stories by Nam Le, is truly that kind of book. . . . As complex in its depth as it is accessible in its prose. . . . These stories are so beautifully written and cross emotional barriers of time and place with such clear vision and strong command of language we can only wonder with awe what Nam Le will offer us next.”—Jim Carmin, The Oregonian*“[The stories in Nam Le’s The Boat] flout the traditional maxim ‘Write what you know,’ taking on characters as diverse as Colombian drug lords, Iranian feminists, and a New York painter who sounds a lot like Lucian Freud. All sincere works of the imagination, these stories yet bear a self-conscious riposte to conventional wisdom. . . . Mr. Le stands out from the crowd [of debut writers] because of the breadth of his research and the confidence of his imagination. He may prize the universal, but he doesn’t skimp on concrete detail. In ‘Tehran Calling,’ for example, he could have described the row between an American visitor and her Iranian friend with dialogue and a few descriptions, but instead he takes us walking on the streets, describes smells, effects of lighting, and the fine points of street wear. . . . I found ‘Hiroshima,’ the most experimental story here, also to be one of the most absorbing. . . . There are many ticklish questions to ask about fiction and its sources, and they have been asked, recently, by many writers. Mr. Le’s distinction is to ask them without once seeming other than a hardworking practitioner of quality American lit.”—Benjamin Lytal, The New York Sun“Leering. Sepia-toned. Dark. Dark. Dark. Light. Well-crafted. Intricately cut, sanded, steamed and stained. Striking. Aggressively schizophrenic. Crayola-esque (characters). Jim Shepard-esque (range).”—Esquire (All-Adjective Reviews)“Sensational . . . There is something thrilling in discovering a gifted new writer on the American scene. And that is what we have in Nam Le, whose short story collection, The Boat, easily will be among the significant works of fiction published this year. . . . Stories that both crackle with immediacy and sport a cool, focused tone. His characters are drawn with an old master’s depth . . . It’s not often that a work of highbrow fiction moves like a suspense novel, but that’s the kind of talent Nam Le displays. It reaffirms your faith in literature. . . . There is a spare architecture to his sentences, yet he has the ability to create complex worlds, shadowed by bleakness and heartbreak. . . . His first story alternates between playful satire and dread seriousness, showing the kind of balancing act Le can pull off. [In] ‘Cartagena,’ Le vividly sketches the cardboard cities and muddy streets of Medellin . . . The story has the hypnotic power of a Graham Greene nightmare. . . . The book’s masterpiece is ‘Halflead Bay,’ an Aussie twist on Hemingway’s Nick Adams stories. . . . It is full of rich description, an ear for native lingo and keen observations of dysfunctional family dynamics. As you read the last lines of *The Boat, it is not a stretch to flash on ‘The Dead,’ the legendary final story in Joyce’s Dubliners. . . . A book filled with grace, texture and humanity.”—Larry Aydlette, The Palm Beach Post “The characters in Nam Le’s The Boat are impossible to pigeonhole, ranging from an egomaniacal Manhattan artist to a Colombian gangster to a hard-drinking Iowa M.F.A. student. [The] standout [is] the brutal title story [which] dramatizes the plight of three Vietnamese boat people. Le’s viscerally affecting writing and bold imagination mark an exciting debut.”—Jennifer Reese, Entertainment Weekly*“Nam Le proves masterful at crafting authentic and believable locations. [His] detailed descriptions of setting dictate tone and mood [and] in churning...