BOOK REVIEW: How to Pronounce Knife
by Souvankham Thammavongsa
ABOUT THE BOOK (from Amazon):
A finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the PEN Open Book Award, and winner of the 2020 Giller Prize, this revelatory story collection honors characters struggling to find their bearings far from home, even as they do the necessary “grunt work of the world.”
A failed boxer painting nails at the local salon. A woman plucking feathers at a chicken processing plant. A housewife learning English from daytime soap operas. A mother teaching her daughter the art of worm harvesting. In her stunning debut story collection, O. Henry Award winner Souvankham Thammavongsa focuses on characters struggling to make a living, illuminating their hopes, disappointments, love affairs, acts of defiance, and above all their pursuit of a place to belong. In spare, intimate prose charged with emotional power and a sly wit, she paints an indelible portrait of watchful children, wounded men, and restless women caught between cultures, languages, and values. As one of Thammavongsa’s characters says, “All we wanted was to live.” And in these stories, they do—brightly, ferociously, unforgettably.
Unsentimental yet tender, taut and visceral, How to Pronounce Knife announces Souvankham Thammavongsa as one of the most striking voices of her generation.
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One of the members of my international reading group mentioned this book recently. A few weeks later, ironically, another friend sent me a copy of it. It’s only about 175 pages, so I decided to start reading it right away even though I was already in the middle of three other books! I read it in about two days.
I’m not normally a fan of short stories. I don’t like the feeling of just getting to know a character as the story ends and a new one begins. But I did like this collection of short stories which are mostly about immigrants and their experiences.
How to Pronounce Knife is a quick read. The stories are emotional and thought-provoking.