Nam Le’s THE BOAT

Nam Le in France signing books.

My college schedule has turned me from movies to TV—I can no longer as freely set aside a few hours for a movie as I can half an hour for an episode before class. And as an English major who sometimes reads upwards of a few hundred pages each week, I neither have the time nor the stamina to read all the novels that are still pending after months and even years. Cue: the short story. Something I can read in one sitting without excuse? Perfect.

So to kick off this quarter I want to recommend Nam Le’s The Boat, a remarkable short story collection by rising Vietnamese-born, Melbourne-raised writer Nam Le. Before fully turning to writing, Le was a lawyer, but his love of reading as a child—in turn reflected by his love of poetry in college, where he wrote his honors thesis on Auden in rhyming couplets—inspired him to spend his time recreating the enthralled, thrilling experience of reading for others (check out this transcribed interview with The Book Show where you can read about this in his own words).

The first story in The Boat, “Love and Honour and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice” (the “old verities and truths of the heart” which Faulker, in his Nobel speech, said any story must have or else be “ephemeral and doomed”), is about a character named Nam Le who, like the author himself, renounced all lawyerly prospects before devoting himself to fiction. “Love and Honour…,” which can be read in its entirety here, is the perfect opener to the rest of the stories. It both showcases Le’s voice (both lyrical—a carryover from his love of poetry—and timed—he once said in an interview that he sees every sentence as an opportunity to lose his audience) and alludes to stories that follow. And its merit as a story in and of itself can’t be overstated. Its keen rumination on things like family, forgiveness, and what writers are responsible for when they remove stories from their original tellers is developed with poignant nuance.

My favorite story from The Boat, “Waiting for Elise,” about an ailing father who tries to reconnect with his longlost daughter when she comes to New York to play cello in concert, humanizes the characters (especially the father) so well that you slip into their shoes. Their intricate psychological lives become your own.

I can’t recommend The Boat enough!

Posted by James

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