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The Boat

Nam Le


List Price: 22.95*
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A stunningly inventive, deeply moving fiction debut: stories that take us from the slums of Colombia to the streets of Tehran; from New York City to Iowa City; from a tiny fishing village in Australia to a foundering vessel in the South China Sea, in a masterly display of literary virtuosity and feeling.

In the magnificent opening story, “Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice,” a young writer is urged by his friends to mine his father’s experiences in Vietnam—and what seems at first a satire of turning one’s life into literary commerce becomes a transcendent exploration of homeland, and the ties between father and son. “Cartagena” provides a visceral glimpse of life in Colombia as it enters the mind of a fourteen-year-old hit man facing the ultimate test. In “Meeting Elise,” an aging New York painter mourns his body’s decline as he prepares to meet his daughter on the eve of her Carnegie Hall debut. And with graceful symmetry, the final, title story returns to Vietnam, to a fishing trawler crowded with refugees, where a young woman’s bond with a mother and her small son forces both women to a shattering decision.

Brilliant, daring, and demonstrating a jaw-dropping versatility of voice and point of view, The Boat is an extraordinary work of fiction that takes us to the heart of what it means to be human, and announces a writer of astonishing gifts.

Praise For The Boat

“Remarkable . . . The Boat catches people in moments of extremis, confronted by death or loss or terror (or all three) and forced to grapple at the most fundamental level with who they are and what they want or believe. Whether it’s the prospect of dying at sea or being shot by a drug kingpin or losing family members in a war, Nam Le’s people are individuals trapped in the crosshairs of fate, forced to choose whether they will react like deer caught in the headlights, or will find a way to confront or disarm the situation. The opening story of this volume, ‘Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice,’ and its singular masterpiece, features a narrator who shares a name and certain biographical details with the author . . . The other tales in this book, however, circumnavigate the globe, demonstrating Mr. Le’s astonishing ability to channel the experiences of a multitude of characters, from a young child living in Hiroshima during World War II to a 14-year-old hit man in the barrios of Medellín to a high school jock in an Australian beach town. Mr. Le not only writes with an authority and poise rare even among longtime authors, but he also demonstrates an intuitive, gut-level ability to convey the psychological conflicts people experience when they find their own hopes and ambitions slamming up against familial expectations or the brute facts of history.
By far the most powerful, most fully realized story in this collection, ‘Love and Honor’ begins as a fairly conventional account of a young writer suffering from writer’s block and trying to cope with an unwanted visit from his father, who has flown in from Australia to see him. . . . As this story unfolds, it becomes a meditation not just on fathers and sons, but also on the burdens of history and the sense of guilt and responsibility that survivors often bequeath to their children. . . . [Le’s] sympathy for his characters and his ability to write with both lyricism and emotional urgency lend his portraits enormous visceral power. . . . In the two stories that bookend this collection, he conveys what it might be like to have the Vietnam War as an inescapable fact of daily life, infecting every relationship and warping the trajectory of one’s life. In ‘The Boat’ he does so directly with devastating results; in ‘Love and Honor’ he does so elliptically, creating a haunting marvel of a story that says as much about familial dreams and burdens as it does about the wages of history.”

–Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“Not yet 30, [Nam Le] is already an extraordinarily accomplished and sophisticated writer. In [The Boat’s] opening story, he plays with the elusive boundaries between truth and fiction . . . [The Boat] offers strong evidence that the most effective way to convey the universal human qualities Faulkner admired in literature is, paradoxically, through the individual and the particular. . . . The range of characters is unusual, but what is truly remarkable is that the language and tone of each [story] is perfectly suited to the characters and setting . . . The stories are so different from one another it is hard to believe all seven are the work of a single author. What they all have in common is that each one portrays its characters in a crisis that reveals resources of courage and resilience even he or she was not aware of. All but one of the stories concern what is arguably the deepest, most complex and most poignant of human relationships: the bond between parent and child. . . . The most moving and unforgettable is ‘Halflead Bay’ . . . Rarely has one read such a sensitive and empathetic treatment of adolescent angst, all the more remarkable because the story’s main character is shy and inarticulate. . . . The story is especially memorable for its richly poetic Australian vernacular, a language Nam Le clearly feels in his bones. The future looks bright for Nam Le. As Faulkner observed, voices like his not only record the human condition but also help us endure and prevail.”

–Michael McGaha, San Francisco Chronicle

“Astounding . . . A refreshingly diverse and panoramic debut. [The Boat’s] seven stories are set in Iowa City, the slums of Colombia, Manhattan, coastal Australia, Hiroshima, Iran and the South China Sea, with characters as varied as a Japanese third-grader, an aging painter with hemorrhoids and an American woman visiting Iran for the first time. . . . ‘Cartagena,’ a gripping tale of adolescent friendship, crime and loyalty [would] in less capable hands . . . quickly devolve into cartoonish violence and two-dimensional stereotype, but Le’s masterful treatment results in a rich unveiling that renders the story more complex at every turn. The atmosphere is utterly authentic, the language spare and idiomatic. . . . What is most remarkable about [‘Meeting Elise’] is the way in which Le deftly juggles dialogue, memory and the physical sense of an aging man’s ailing body to create a continuous, seamless consciousness, wholly convincing throughout. The stories tend to establish a future event and conclude just before that event occurs. . . . This lends them a narrative propulsion while also placing the characters in a space in which they interact, collide, struggle to connect, fail or succeed. Le's characters tend to be people in transit, people who, for one reason or another, have come unmoored and find themselves among other unmoored people, all of them trying to find their way to safety and stability. He resists the urge to explain them away and instead inhabits them with the sort of visceral empathy that cannot be taught. . . . The finest story in the collection is ‘Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice,’ . . . a deeply moving story about a son and father attempting to come to terms with themselves, with each other and with the past. . . . In its complexity, in its range, in its depiction of a struggle to make sense of experience, [it] achieves the realm of Literature.”

–Antoine Wilson, Los Angeles Times Book Review

“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. . . . ‘Love and Honor and Pity . . .’ is a thought-provoking introduction to the world of the author, and ‘Halflead Bay,’ a story that takes place in Le’s native Australia, is a very moving, brief coming-of-age tale. . . . 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. The range is ambitious. Le adopts the persona of a young drug assassin in Cartagena, an aging New York painter, an American woman visiting a radical friend in Tehran. Steered by a less-certain voice, readers might suffer whiplash. But Le never loses his way. In the searing first story, ‘Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice,’ he nails with bitter precision the tension between a Vietnam-born former lawyer trying to meet a deadline at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and his father . . . Le sketches the life of the immigrant writer son with spare, sure strokes. . . . His kaleidoscopic world view is on display throughout the stories, which seamlessly blend cultural traditions, accents and landscapes that run from lush to barren. The collection works in part because Le’s confidence as a storyteller is the solid base on which the structure rests. Le doesn’t turn away from difficult moments; he stares right at them. There’s a purpose to the tough scenes that builds the reader’s trust. 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. Like them, he sees individual suffering as intimately tied to large social forces. . . . Though many of the stories have a socially charged dimension, they aren’t concerned in any specific way with issues or social problems, except insofar as they affect the lives of his characters. Le concentrates how they experience our time and the places they inhabit. . . . [‘Love and Honor . . .’] gives multifaceted life to the story of a father, deeply enmeshed in his ethnic history, and a son, who is ambivalent about his relationship to it. . . . The way ‘Love and Honor’ ends, conveyed in beautifully restrained poetic language, is heartrending. Indeed, all of these stories break your heart in different ways, each as memorably as the others. . . . ‘The Boat,’ which concludes the book, is the toughest to read. Not because it isn’t wonderfully written. Rather, because it focuses so vividly on the physical and psychological trials of a small group of Vietnamese refugees afloat in a small boat, their supplies exhausted, hoping to reach land. 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. These seven stories are set all over the globe . . . Le’s photographic eye and pitch-perfect ear capture each place so well the reader will have to remind himself that he’s reading and is not actually standing on a bluff in Australia or walking on Summit Street in Iowa . . . [‘Love and Honor . . .’] begins as a clever story about how stories are written and what writers will co-opt in order to make their work salable and bankable, [then] deepens into a magnificent tour de force about the bonds and betrayals between a father and son, betrayals that often take root and grow knottier over time. The final twist in this story, shocking and earned, will leave you, as it does [the main character,] so ‘full of wanting, I thought it would flood my heart.’ The collection continues to astonish with each successive story, pitting love against honor, denouncing compassion in favor of pride, and always, always questioning the limits of and necessity for sacrifice, most often those sacrifices parents make for their children. . . . [In ‘Meeting Elise,’] Le structures his story and conducts [the narrator’s] voice so well, we don’t see what the story is up to until it’s upon us. . . . [‘Halflead Bay’] contains some of Le’s most exquisite prose . . . And in ‘Cartagena’ you won’t be able to dislodge the blistered, hardened voice of the teenage assassin from your head, nor will you soon forget the voice of the orphan narrator at Hiroshima before the bomb is dropped. Finally, the journey on the overcrowded trawler ferrying Vietnamese escapees across the South China Sea is unquestionably one of the most remarkable, complex stories since Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. . . . 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.’ . . . Each [story] contemplates love with a sometimes unnerving ferocity. The range of settings and points of view in The Boat beggars belief, not least because the stories never betray an errant trace of the research that surely informs them. . . . [The title story] ends with an unforgettable scene of love and heartbreak. In each [story], Le parts veil after veil of illusion . . . Even if these stories were just competent, ‘Halflead Bay’ would make The Boat one of the strongest first books of fiction in the last 10 or 15 years. . . . 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. ‘Halflead Bay,’ which unfolds in Australia, is a wind-swept, craggy love story–a modern day Wuthering Heights set on the Continental Shelf. Le writes beautifully of the weather, a violent, sensual power which signals some things cannot be changed or resisted . . . The most impressive story of the bunch is ‘Cartagena,’ which bounces through the teeming slums of a Colombian city . . . Le must have conducted some research to enter these disparate worlds, but his stories never feel like reportage. Even ‘Hiroshima,’ a brief, heart-breaking tale about a young girl’s routine in the days and hours before the bomb, has a riveting magnetism–somehow truer than the awful truth of that day. In this story, as in others, Le never tries to throw his voice, or mimic how a person like his narrator would speak. Instead, he creates a literary equivalent that is just articulate enough, unusual enough to hold our attention and keep us reading. . . . 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. . . . What first appears as a story about not knowing what to write–yawn–becomes, through sophisticated legerdemain, a devastatingly powerful exploration of a fraught father-son relationship and the son’s gradual understanding of how his father’s brutal wartime experiences at the hands of Americans affected them both. The story works on several levels, and the business about finding your subject matter as a writer is a key element. . . . The two strongest stories, which bookend the collection, both involve Vietnam. Others, such as ‘Cartagena,’ a tense tale about Colombia . . . show off Le’s versatility . . . ‘Halflead Bay’ evokes the dread felt by a teenager in an Australian fishing village as he tries to prove himself man enough to face both his mother’s imminent death and an impending fight with a thuggish soccer teammate over a girl. Several stories are told from a female point of view, and all put a human face on horror. In ‘Hiroshima,’ a hungry, scared third-grader who’s been sent to the hills by her family for safety from American bombs tries to be brave. Alerted by the title, a reader’s dread mounts. . . . 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. While the stories could be read in any order, reading them in sequence, and slowly, brings rewards. They could not have greater differences, premises, contexts, characters and situations, yet their parallel concerns of anxiety, displacement and disappointment clearly connect them with palpable tension and raw emotion. . . . ‘Hiroshima,’ one of the most emotionally stunning stories [is] a story of wartime, yet peaceful, Hiroshima told in the words of a child moments before the bomb is dropped. Le skillfully uses the reader’s knowledge to anticipate what happens next . . . The title story, ‘The Boat,’ closes the book and reminds us again of Le’s own experiences and his great skill in fictionalizing them, here in the voice of a young girl on a small boat along with hundreds trying to escape the tyranny of Communist Vietnam. Beginning with a frightful storm and ending with utter heartbreak, this harrowing story remains with the reader long after its conclusion. 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, graphic prose, he evokes deep emotion . . . The sweeping scope of place in this collection is astonishing and the author uses it to propel the stories forward. . . . Le writes frightened women, old men and young children as convincing as he writes himself. He picks up the dialects and traditions of different cultures and inserts them seamlessly into the stories, as if they were inherent blueprints from which the stories were built. The impact of Nam Le’s writing makes it difficult to believe that this is debut collection. He writes with assuredness and impeccable precision. His descriptions range from lush and beautiful to graphic and repulsive, all of them strikingly vivid. . . . Every tale that the author tells is so puncturing, so sharp, that the whole collection becomes as dangerous and alluring as a drawer full of kitchen knives. Nam Le provides a genuine new voice in literary fiction and is undoubtedly an author to watch.”

–Deidre Wengen,

“Stories [that] engulf you and transport you to another time, another place–give you a window into someone else’s soul almost deeper than if it were your own. . . . Long on character, depth and emotion: you’d swear that [Nam Le] has lived in every one of those stories [that make up The Boat]. When you finish each one, you will feel as if you have read a novel, your breathing will be heavy and your heart will be pounding as you return from a deeply personal adventure that has, in some strange way, become your own. . . . The thread tying the stories together in The Boat is the dramatic humanity, the poetic language, and most of all, the idea that that depth and intensity of human emotion is expressed on every continent. We are not so different after all.”

–Faye Levow, Portsmouth Herald News

“Four stars . . . The stories [in The Boat] connect across country, class and circumstance–not only through Le’s ambition to nail each milieu, but through his obsession with the ways people live in and reveal their cultures . . . Each story immerses readers in its own distant setting. The book’s success isn’t just a matter of scene-setting; it also depends on Le’s characters and his classic, coincidences-explained-later plotting. He’ll make you marvel at the web his South American hit men are caught in, and he’ll make you worry for them. . . . In a piece about an Iranian activist and the clueless white friend who comes to visit her, he writes the part of the American interloper with sympathy and aplomb. . . . Le offers real insight.”

–Sophie Fels, Time Out New York

“Seven stories set around the globe–from Iowa to Tehran, Manhattan to Australia, and Colombia to Hiroshima–make up Vietnam-born Nam Le’s dynamic debut collection, The Boat, in which achingly familiar alliances converge in ingeniously unlikely places.”

–Lisa Shea, Elle

“Wide-ranging, knife-sharp stories by a masterly 29-year-old. Nam Le was born in Vietnam and raised in Australia, yet his debut collection of stories, The Boat, reveals as mature and certain an American voice as just about any native-born writer twice his age. His prose evokes Philip Roth’s–sure of itself, clean, and invisibly effective. These muscular and psychologically rich narratives take place in the United States, Australia, Colombia, and in a storm-tossed boat in the South China Sea [and] contend with a startlingly wide array of characters . . . What’s notable is the structural soundness of these powerful and far-ranging pieces: Each one is built to exactly the shape, and flows in exactly the tone and language, that will suit the needs of the story. The final and longest story in the book, ‘The Boat,’ takes on the deepest issues of life, love, and death, something worthy of Conrad or James. Nam Le is a remarkably sophisticated new writer.”

–Vince Passaro, O, The Oprah Magazine
“Stories rooted in war and history [that] frequently zoom in on the affairs of characters who have to live with the consequences. . . . Le uses his wonderfully flexible prose style to explore Vietnamese ethnic identity, writing workshops, and even plain old drunkenness.”

–Colin Marshall, The Santa Barbara Independent

“Stories [that] are reflective of their writer: eclectic, diverse, true in their toughness and giving in their complexity. . . . Two gems [are] ‘Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice,’ [which] is art at its highest form, incorporating satire, metafiction, homage, and social critique into a story about a writer and his father and the infamous My Lai Massacre, [and] the title story ‘The Boat’ [which] is filled with so much emotional truth, it borders the line with non-fiction. . . . It turned a tale into an experience and brought us that much closer to one another.”

–Ky-Phong Tran, Nguoi Viet Daily News

“[Nam Le’s] personal history is as compelling and engrossing as any of his writing. . . . A debut collection of seven taut, geographically diverse stories . . . Le could be the next big thing [and] the opening story, ‘Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice,’ goes a good distance to proving it.”

–Robert Birnbaum, The Morning News

“So engaging, so unequivocally well done, [The Boat] is sure to appeal to any fan of good writing. From the opening tale, it’s hard not to be giddy. [‘Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice’] is a brilliantly self-conscious and humorous slice of the writing life, which doubles as a poignant story about fathers and sons and family tragedies. . . . Things only get better from there. Nam Le is a chameleon of voices and points of view, leading the reader through the experiences of an older man, a disillusioned young woman, a boy on the cusp of adulthood, and a teenage girl. The Boat takes us all over the world with fantastic verisimilitude. . . . ‘Halflead Bay’ is an enviable achievement–an adolescent’s battle to find courage as his life begins to turn upside down, the story developed with perfect suspense. . . . And the title story offers urgency, poignancy and heartbreaking tragedy. As if the stories themselves weren’t enough to make The Boat a worthy summer read, the skill of the author is a spectacle to behold. He manages to avoid so many pitfalls. He doesn’t shy away from stark and disturbing images, for example, yet he doesn’t rely on the grotesque to create effective writing. The reader can sense his personal investment in the work, but the stories aren’t even close to self-indulgent. It’s enough to give a person a literary crush. Each story is dark and deep, exquisitely constructed and beautifully told. Nam Le is a studied, competent and graceful writer, and The Boat is both a contemporary treasure and a harbinger of good things to come.”

–Jessica Inman, BookPage

“The protagonist of the first story in this stellar debut collection is the Vietnam-born Nam, a former lawyer from Australia trying to meet a deadline at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop when his estranged father blows into town. Will this [collection] be a bunch of autobiographical stories exemplifying ‘ethnic fiction’ (which the story actually managed, rather slyly, to dismiss)? Absolutely not–unless Le is also a 14-year-old assassin in Colombia, asked to kill a friend; a crotchety if successful painter coming to terms with a cancer diagnosis just as the daughter he’s never met prepares for her Carnegie Hall debut; a high school boy in Australia who’s achieved a modest sports victory and must face down a bully as his mother faces death; and an American woman visiting a friend in Tehran who risks her life battling the regime. Le writes rawly rigorous stories that capture entire worlds; each character is distinctive and fully fleshed out, each plot eventful as a full-length novel but artfully compressed. Highly recommended.”

–Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal

“[The Boat is] set on six continents and at sea, in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, [with] characters ranging in age from childhood through the senior years. Many [of the stories] explore the intricate loyalties and betrayals in family life: notably, ‘Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice,’ in which a Vietnamese Australian émigré studying at the University of Iowa’s writers’ program experiences his father’s final brutality, and ‘Halflead Bay,’ in which a teenage boy struggles with the father and brother who rescue him from a vicious schoolmate. [The characters] are brought to life in powerful stories of love and death through a muscular yet delicate style: lyrical, often poetic, leaving the obvious unsaid and endings ambiguous. Readers will devour this book.”

–Ellen Loughran, Booklist

“A breathtakingly assured collection of stories–powerful, moving, unsparingly honest–exhibiting a narrative confidence and range that is as remarkable as it is mature. A tremendous debut.”

–William Boyd, author of Any Human Heart

“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. . . . The opening [story] features a Vietnamese character named Nam who is struggling to complete his Iowa Writer’s Workshop master’s when his father comes for a tense visit . . . The story’s ironies are masterfully controlled by Le, and reverberate through the rest of this peripatetic collection. Taken together, the stories cover a vast geographic territory and are filled with exquisitely painful and raw moments of revelation, captured in an economical style as deft as it is sure.”

Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“A polished and intense debut of astonishing range. Some of the stories border on novellas, and this allows the author more latitude to develop the complexity of his characters. The opening story is a brilliantly conceived narrative about a writer called Nam . . . When his father, a Vietnamese immigrant interrupts both Nam’s schedule and his personal life, Nam begins to fret, for he’s worried about being able to produce a story on the tight deadline he faces. He’s not interested in falling back on the ‘typical’ survival story about Vietnamese boat people, and he remembers that at an earlier time his father confessed to having witnessed the My Lai massacre as a boy of 14. This revelation leads Nam to a stunning realization about the nature of father-son relationships, and his epiphany becomes the true subject of his story. . . Ironically, and slyly, with a nod to the opening story, the final piece, which gives the book its name, is an imaginative reconstruction for what it felt like to be a boat person, to launch into a 12-day journey with no foreseeable end. Consummately self-assured.”

Kirkus Reviews

“Stellar . . . The unusually various characters in Nam Le’s excellent debut collection live between worlds. . . . The book’s seven stories are also diverse in setting and mode. Consequently, the reader . . . becomes a participant in Le’s transglobal examination of lives being lived in mental and physical border zones.
Le leaps from world to world with the help of his unusually supple prose. It can shift over the course of a page from intense, detailed understatement to the workmanlike to the searingly eloquent. The textures of prose found among the stories are equally distinct. . . . In The Boat’s opening story, Le’s fictional alter ego . . . [is] drafting a story, much like the one we are reading, that simultaneously enacts, dismantles, and expands on the genre. The Boat manages to breathe similarly fresh air into the overly familiar idea of the short-story collection. The result is bracing.”

–Laird Hunt, Bookforum

“Nam Le is extraordinary. His editor remarked to me that he ‘must be heard’; I would add that he will be heard, that The Boat will be read for as long as people read books. Its vision and its power are timeless.”

–Mary Gaitskill, author of Bad Behavior and Veronica

“Wonderful stories that snarl and pant across our crazed world . . . an extraordinary performance by a fine new talent. Nam Le is a heartbreaker, not easily forgotten.”

–Junot Díaz, author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

“It is obvious as one starts these stories that they explore a vast geographical landscape, but what becomes clear as one moves forward is that they plumb a similarly vast emotional and intellectual one, and they do so with poignancy and with wit. Nam Le’s pyrotechnics as a story-teller never distract from the brilliant heart that has conceived and written these gripping narratives of love’s uncertainty and loss’s inevitability.”

–Andrew Solomon, author of The Noonday Demon

“From the very first page of The Boat, Nam Le’s extraordinary talent, range of vision, and moral courage make the reader sit up and take notice. By the last page, one feels a kind of fervent gratitude–rare enough these days–for having been introduced to a young writer whose mark on the literary world, so freshly made, will only grow deeper in the years to come.”

–John Burnham Schwartz, author of The Commoner and Reservation Road

“Nam Le writes with a rare blend of courage and beauty. His prose has a stunning clarity that works perfectly with the constant flow of narrative surprises. Book your passage on The Boat. You will not forget the people you meet on the voyage.”

–Chris Offutt, author of The Same River Twice

The Boat is tremendous, challenging and ambitious, worthy of the same shelf that holds Dubliners and The Things They Carried–like those works, it asks to be read as a whole and taken seriously as a book. In it, storms gather but no one seems able to respond; violence leads to confusion instead of clarity; love provokes rather than answers old questions, stirring up painful longings in numb and broken souls. The book journeys across time and space, history and continents, finding a nightmare of isolation, fear, upheaval and violence. Nam Le looks into our present, and we seem to hear a prophetic voice coming to us from the future, but really this book nails our collective now, our kairos, with an urgency and relevance that feels visionary.”

–Charles D’Ambrosio, author of The Dead Fish Museum

“In the first story of this fine collection, Nam Le has already demonstrated the kind of courage and directness it takes most writers years to achieve. By the last, he’s proven he can take you on a journey to almost anywhere–the slums of Colombia, the South Asian seas, the exurbs of Australia, or the art world of New York–all in vivid and at times harrowing detail. The Boat is an impressive feat, and the debut of a very talented writer.”

–Adam Haslett, author of You Are Not a Stranger Here

“In these seven fierce, alluring stories, Nam Le demonstrates, to an extraordinary degree, John Donne’s claim that no man is an island.  I was impressed and deeply moved by the many worlds–Iowa City, war-torn Viet Nam, rural Australiato which this brilliant young writer transported me.  A terrific book.”

–Margot Livesey, author of Eva Moves the Furniture

Knopf, 9780307268082, 288pp.

Publication Date: May 13, 2008

About the Author

Nam Le was born in Vietnam and raised in Australia. He has received the Pushcart Prize, the Michener-Copernicus Society of America Award, and fellowships from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and Phillips Exeter Academy. Currently the fiction editor of the "Harvard Review, " he has published work in "Zoetrope: All Story," "A Public Space, Conjunctions, One Story, " and "The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2007. "He divides his time between Australia and the United States.