Monday, June 25, 2012

Love and Honour and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice by Nam Le

Over the last couple of months, at least two of the big publishers here in Australia have started putting out ebook only individual short stories by some well known Australian authors!  When I saw them on Netgalley I jumped at the chance to read at least a couple of them.

I was especially pleased to see a new Nam Le story, having read and enjoyed his very successful collection, The Boat, several years ago. I possibly should have read the description because it turns out that this story is one that was previously published in that collection. In other words, this ended up being a reread for me. Not that this was a huge hardship though.

It is interesting to revisit a short story several years after you first read it, particularly in the context of being a standalone story and not part of the collection. In The Boat, this was the first story  and so the other stories built on top of this one. At one point, the character Nam (who does seem to share a lot of characteristics with the author Nam) makes references to other stories which turn out to be the other stories in the original collection.

Our character, Nam, is a writer who is just about to finish his time at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. He is, however, very blocked creatively and is resisting as much as possible the idea  of writing an ethnic story like the one that is the story of his family. With a deadline looming, the last thing he needs is the added pressure of his dad coming all the way from Australia to spend some time with him.

The relationship between the two men has been precarious for a long time. Nam thinks he knows his father's story that led him to escape to Australia as a refugee, but does he really? His father doesn't necessarily understand Nam and his modern ways. This is a common immigrant story - the disconnect between the two generations who have very different life experiences and who have two very different cultural experiences.

As the deadline for his submission continues, he decides that he will write his father's story, but is it possible for the son to understand exactly what it was that the father went through as a young boy in the Vietnam war; his loss, his actions, the lasting impact both on his father as a man and as a family man who now lives in a far away country.

It's a bit meta, with Nam the character taking on some of the story of Nam the author, but ultimately it is a compelling short story to read to occupy a few minutes in your day.

Now, I need to keep on waiting for the next new story from Nam Le.


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


  1. I have this book and I treasure it but confess I haven't yet read all the stories. This give me impetus to find and get into the book again!

  2. I was left wanting to read more of his short stories as a result of reading this one story.

  3. Ah yes, I remember this story in The boat. It was one of the two pretty autobiographical stories in the collection as I recollect. It also plays with that idea of writing what you know about, I think, which of course Nam Le in the full collection expands wildly far from doesn't he? I think he's playing around with us here about writing as well as telling a very real story about a father-son. Great story and nice to see your comment on it.

    1. He definitely departs from the 'what you know' theme for many of the stories. The heart of them all seems pretty true from memory though.

  4. That story touches on a number of themes of interest. I've done a couple of summer writing programs on the Iowa campus -- part of the attraction is knowing that much more serious writers have spent time there.

    Accidental rereads are often interesting.

    1. I can definitely see how that would be an attraction, Joy!