Book Review: How to Pronounce Knife

These short stories bring us the ordinary lives of Lao refugees in Canada, peasants and professionals alike who risked their lives escaping war and had to reinvent themselves once in Canada. We meet bus drivers, cleaners and worm-pickers, factory workers and printers. Widowed dads raising teenagers; husbands trying to temporarily mute their wives’ trauma with gifts they cannot afford. Little kids covering for their parents lack of language proficiency. High school students trying to juggle two cultures and two languages.

I loved how the author presented us such a raw picture. These are not the rosey stories of an American Dream realized. They are not the grateful and Americanized immigrants that America expects to read about. They are struggling and confused and yet, working hard and trying to make it. Fighting their demons that followed them to their new home. I did think it was interesting how, though we see a lot of strong women characters, the resilient dads and husbands, stoic and unsentimental, who weather it all for their families’ sake seem more prominent. It is the women who cheat, or leave or breakdown while the men stay back and pick up the pieces.

My favorite story was that of a 70 year old woman who has a fling with a younger man, emotionally unavailable. It is rare though to find a collection where all of them are good, and I think this one accomplished that very well.

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