Mercer University students in an advanced French course finished up the spring semester with a virtual meeting with an award-winning writer. Kim Thúy, author of the autobiographical novel Ru, joined Dr. Katherine Roseau’s transnational francophone literature class on Zoom on April 26.
This special topics course was entirely in French, with students reading three French novels and having all discussions in the language, including their talk with Thúy. The authors of the books they studied were from former colonies of France and then immigrated.
Thúy fled from Vietnam with her family after the war, settled in Quebec, and lives in Montreal today. Ru won the award for French-language fiction at the 2010 Governor General’s Awards and has been translated into dozens of languages.
The course aimed to expose students to the connections that people have with France because of their past and how they write about their experiences. Dr. Roseau, assistant professor of French, said most of her French experiences, as well as her students’ experiences, have been in or related to metropolitan France, and the books they read offered a different perspective.
“The idea of the course was to give students a better understanding of cultures that are francophone but outside of Europe,” she said. “This was a unique opportunity for them to talk to someone with a multicultural background.”
Dr. Roseau wanted her students to be able to meet with one of the three authors, and through a Facebook group, she discovered that Thúy often speaks with students. She reached out to the author about the idea, and she readily agreed. The event was supported through the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures’ Caudill Moore Fund.
The eight students in the course, all French majors and minors, talked with Thúy for an hour and 15 minutes and asked her questions about her book, childhood, Vietnamese cuisine, culture and more.
“She’s a beautiful soul. She was very generous with her time and responses. She really connected with the students as well, really took the time to understand where they are coming from. It was a great way to end the semester,” Dr. Roseau said.
“One of the most beautiful things for me was students were able to talk to this famous author in their second language. Seeing their language in action like that was a valuable point.”
Chandler Evans, a senior finance, economic and French triple-major, said he and his classmates weren’t sure of what to expect during the meeting with the author or where to start with their conversation, but Thúy was very easy to talk to.
“I think it was valuable being able to put a face to a name and an experience to the name,” he said. “It was great to meet her, to talk with her, to understand the background of why she wrote the book. She told us a whole bunch of stories and joked with us.”
Alex Tirello, a senior double-majoring in English literature and French, said meeting Thúy was the highlight of her semester. She asked the author about her most vivid childhood memories and enjoyed hearing her talk about cultural traditions. She said it was very special to have Thúy speak directly to her about her life, and that gave her a better understanding of the book.
“She was probably the most down-to-earth person that I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with. I was able to appreciate her story more, both the book and her personal story. She was very honest and candid in what she was telling us,” Tirello said. “It was really rewarding. To actually meet the person that has lived through what you have read makes it all the more real.”