The one book the Shadow Giller unanimously featured on their Shortlist prediction lists was How to Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa!
What a thrill it was to see it on the list of five finalists. So far, Naomi, Penny and Lindy have had nothing but wonderful things to say about this collection of short stories and we anticipate hearing wonderful thoughts on it from Shadow Juror Kate too:
Naomi: Every story in this collection is strong. The fourteen stories in this book are all, in some way, about the immigrant experience. Many of the characters are parents or children (mainly from Laos), experiencing their new lives in very different ways. The one constant throughout being the desire to belong. She featured quotes from the title story, Randy Travis, Paris, Mani-Pedi, You are So Embarrassing and Ewwrrrkk. When she first read it she said it was “A book that clearly belongs on the Giller prizelist.” You can see her full post about How to Pronounce Knife here.
Lindy called the collection, “An outstanding collection of quiet stories, told with compassion and humour, about Laotian refugees. They are bus drivers, beauticians, farm labourers and factory workers—people with self confidence and integrity. People who carry a sense of home within themselves. People who know the power of laughter. There‘s a porous quality to the writing: the sense of possibility that lies in all that is unsaid and unnamed.” Lindy had a conversation back in July with Jenny on her Reading Envy podcast and talked about how this book wowed her and said then that this book belonged on the Giller Shortlist! You can find her post about How to Pronounce Knife here. How is that for predictive power?!
Penny shows her enthusiasm for this collection with her heavy use of exclamation marks! What an excellent collection of stories! Seriously wonderful stories. In sometimes as little as 6 or 7 pages, each story was packed with great emotion! They are honestly some of the best I’ve read! I can totally see this collection being on the Longlist because of it’s beautiful writing and how each story gives such strong insight into the plights of refugees (here, Laotian), being an outsider, wanting a sense of belonging — really I won’t be able to give you profound words about it – but these all have such heart, emotion, humour and heartbreak. I highly recommend reading this collection! Her favourite of the collection was definitely How to Pronounce Knife saying that Thammavongsa “managed to pack in soooo much heart and soul into 7 pages, it was a deeply affecting story.” You can read her full post on it here.
This is an excellent finalist for the Giller Prize. The New York Times featured this collection and here you can read excerpts from the book. Kirkus also reviewed it, calling it, “Moving, strange, and occasionally piercing.” Finally, here is the Giller Prize Jury citation: “How to Pronounce Knife is a stunning collection of stories that portray the immigrant experience in achingly beautiful prose. The emotional expanse chronicled in this collection is truly remarkable. These stories are vessels of hope, of hurt, of rejection, of loss and of finding one’s footing in a new and strange land. Thammavongsa’s fiction cuts to the core of the immigrant reality like a knife – however you pronounce it.”