How to Pronounce Knife (Hardcover)


By Souvankham Thammavongsa

Little, Brown and Company, 9780316422130, 192pp.

Publication Date: April 21, 2020

List Price: 26.00*
* Individual store prices may vary.


Spare, unsentimental, and distilled to riveting essentials, these literary short stories honor the surreal, funny, and often wrenching realities of trying to build a life far from home.

In the title story of Souvankham Thammavongsa's debut collection, a young girl brings a book home from school and asks her father, the only adult in the family who can read English, to help her pronounce a tricky word, a simple exchange with unforgettable consequences. Thammavongsa is a master at homing in on moments like this -- moments of exposure, dislocation, and messy feeling that push us right up against the limits of language.

The taut, visceral stories that make up How to Pronounce Knifefocus on characters struggling to find their bearings in unfamiliar territory, or shuttling between idioms, cultures, and values. A failed boxer discovers what it truly means to be a champion when he starts painting nails at his sister's salon. A young woman tries to discern the invisible but immutable social hierarchies that govern relationships at a chicken processing plant. A mother coaches her daughter in the challenging art of worm harvesting. Charging her clear, direct sentences with immense power, Thammavongsa interrogates what it means to make a living, both in the sense of work and in the sense of creating meaning and identity in precarious circumstances.

Aiming its penetrating gaze at brutality and tenderness, revulsion and arousal, pain and laughter alike, How to Pronounce Knifeestablishes Thammavongsa as one of the most striking and assured voices of her generation.

About the Author

Souvankham Thammavongsa was born in the Lao refugee camp in Nong Khai, Thailand and was raised and educated in Toronto. She is the award-winning author of four books of poetry and her fiction has appeared in Harper's, Granta, the Paris Review, Ploughshares, Best American Non-Required Reading 2018, and the O. Henry Prize Stories 2019.

Praise For How to Pronounce Knife: Stories

"These poignant and deceptively
quiet stories are powerhouses of feeling and depth; How to Pronounce Knife
is an artful blend of simplicity and sophistication."—MARY GAITSKILL, author of VERONICA and SOMEBODY WITH A LITTLE HAMMER

"I love these stories.
There's some fierce and steady activity in all of the sentences-something that
makes them live, and makes them shift a little in meaning when you look at them
again and they look back at you (or look beyond you)."


"How to Pronounce Knife is a riveting,
subversive collection that alights within us like a shock to the system. I find
it miraculous - and liberating and joyful - that language so radiantly exact
can be so raw, so brazen. This is a major work and a lasting one."—MADELEINE THIEN, author of DO NOT SAY WE HAVE NOTHING

to Pronounce Knife
is a book of rarest beauty and power. Souvankham
Thammavongsa has already earned a devoted readership for her poetry. And
in each of these exquisitely crafted stories, we experience the profound
emotional effects of economy and distillation. We feel the reverberating
energy around each judiciously placed word. This is one of the great short
story collections of our time. Do not miss it."—DAVID CHARIANDY, author of BROTHER and I'VE BEEN MEANING TO TELL YOU

Thammavongsa writes with deep precision, wide-open spaces, and quiet, cool,
emotionally devastating poise. There is not a moment off in these affecting

"How to Pronounce Knife is a book of unusual ferocity
and grace. Souvankham Thammavongsa carefully unpacks the aches and aspirations
of immigrant and refugee life in tight, commanding prose; and these subtle yet
shattering stories glow with empathy, humor, and wisdom."—MIA ALVAR, author of IN THE COUNTRY

and elegant. . . These brief stories pack a punch,
punctuated by direct prose that's full of acute observations...This is a potent

Souvankham Thammavongsa's How to Pronounce Knife is like finding, at last, a
part of you that you had lost and had been searching for all this time. Not
since the stories of Edward P. Jones have I encountered such a unified and yet
wide-ranging vision-both geographically and emotionally-that captures the
spirit of not only a community but of the greater world-then, now, the future.
This is a book full of powerful resilience, great journeys, and above all else:
fierce, heart-wrenching love."—PAUL YOON, author of SNOW HUNTERS

"How to Pronounce Knife is a masterful collection,
written with so much veracity, you'll swear every word is true. Thammavongsa's
prose is spare, the images she evokes so crystalline, they require no
embellishment. Here is life, rendered with precision and insight. Instantly
recognizable. She offers sharp sensory details, piercing imagery, endings that
will punch you in the gut and leave you yearning for more."
SHARON BALA, author THE BOAT PEOPLE, winner of the Harper Lee Prize