How to Pronounce Knife

How to Pronounce Knife


Book Club Kit - 2020
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Named one of Time Magazine 's Must-Read Books of 2020 and one of the best books of the month by The New York Times , Salon, Vanity Fair, Bustle, The Millions, and Vogue, and featuring stories that have appeared in Harper's , Granta , The Atlantic , and The Paris Review , this revelatory book of fiction from O. Henry Award winner Souvankham Thammavongsa establishes her as an essential new voice in Canadian and world literature. Told with compassion and wry humour, these stories honour characters struggling to find their bearings far from home, even as they do the necessary "grunt work of the world."

A young man painting nails at the local salon. A woman plucking feathers at a chicken processing plant. A father who packs furniture to move into homes he'll never afford. A housewife learning English from daytime soap operas. In her stunning debut book of fiction, O. Henry Award winner Souvankham Thammavongsa focuses on characters struggling to make a living, illuminating their hopes, disappointments, love affairs, acts of defiance, and above all their pursuit of a place to belong. In spare, intimate prose charged with emotional power and a sly wit, she paints an indelible portrait of watchful children, wounded men, and restless women caught between cultures, languages, and values. As one of Thammavongsa's characters says, "All we wanted was to live." And in these stories, they do--brightly, ferociously, unforgettably.

A daughter becomes an unwilling accomplice in her mother's growing infatuation with country singer Randy Travis. A boxer finds an unexpected chance at redemption while working at his sister's nail salon. An older woman finds her assumptions about the limits of love unravelling when she begins a relationship with her much younger neighbour. A school bus driver must grapple with how much he's willing to give up in order to belong. And in the Commonwealth Short Story Prize-shortlisted title story, a young girl's unconditional love for her father transcends language.

Unsentimental yet tender, and fiercely alive, How to Pronounce Knife announces Souvankham Thammavongsa as one of the most striking voices of her generation.
Publisher: [Place of publication not identified] :, McClelland & Stewart,, 2020
Edition: Book Club Kit
Copyright Date: ♭2019
ISBN: 9780771094606
Characteristics: 179 pages ;,21 cm.


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Feb 08, 2021

I wasn't drawn in by this book after the first couple of stories, so only read half a dozen before abandoning it (that said, I did cherry-pick the stories that got the most acclaim from critics). They’re all about Laotian immigrants, which is not surprising, since that’s Souvankham's background, but they’re all told in the same jaded, slightly-alienated, dispassionate way and none of them really felt complete to me. There's not only no joy in these stories, there's almost no life. I get that being an immigrant is sub-awesome in a myriad of ways, and donning psychological armour for self-preservation purposes happens, but this book didn't explore the full dimensions of the experience for me. To my mind these aren’t really stories so much as snapshots into windows that reveal little of the inner workings of any hearts.

Jan 29, 2021

Laotian author. Short stories. Good read.very much immigrant lit.

Jan 09, 2021

Winner of the 2020 Giller! The writing has a distinct style that isn't my cup of tea. The stories are for the most part impactful but the writing is rather punchy and direct. Nothing graceful about this style at all, but that's okay because I'm sure many people will enjoy it for what it is. I'm glad I read it but I'm not sure this is an author for me.

Jan 04, 2021

This slim volume of short stories focuses on the lives of Laotian immigrants and refugees in Canada. Whether the voice of a 70-year-old woman or an elementary school girl, Thammavongsa never pulls any punches in portraying their often difficult and harsh experiences. The most poignant story was told from the viewpoint of a immigrant woman who has launched her daughter into a better life and the daughter no longer has a relationship with her mother. Written in short, powerful sentences, I finished this book in an afternoon.

Dec 11, 2020

Ordinary writing, juvenile.

Dec 05, 2020

Giller winner, G&M 2020 best books, short stories

Nov 23, 2020

As a whole I feel underwhelmed by this collection, despite the fact it recently won the Scotiabank Giller prize. Each story is a glimpse into the everyday lives of people (mostly of Lao origin) who are trying to find their place in a country far away from their own, working menial jobs, struggling with the language and culture and often feeling lonely, isolated and underappreciated. On the whole, their immigrant experiences were pretty universal and while the topic is certainly important, I simply wanted more. The language is simple, unflinchingly direct but somehow the stories didn’t really get to me. I was also hoping to learn more about Lao culture, but apart of occasional snippets, this didn't really happen. There were several that I liked - mostly the ones about parents and children and a few that I really didn’t care about. The rest I think I will forget pretty quickly.

Excellent stories!!

May 10, 2020

I once heard a children’s chapter book writer explain that writing a picture book was hard. Getting everything you want into 32 pages that included illustrations was difficult. It is the same for a short story author. Thammavongsa is a master in delivering her first short story collection. Her stories are thoughtful capturing of life in America as a refugee. Her first story in the collection “How to Pronounce Knife” should be in every teacher’s schoolbag. Its poignant in telling what so many teachers don’t know about immigrant home life, the language and cultural differences that make school difficult. In all her stories it’s the feeling of being invisible and alienated. t

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