How To Pronounce Knife is the debut short story collection of Toronto-based poet Souvankham Thammavongsa (kindly sent to me for review by the fine folks at Bloomsbury Publishing).
Fourteen slices-of-life depict the vastly different lived experiences of Lao refugees of all ages, genders, and creeds. These are stories of humour, hurt, hope, and honour.
What they have in common, the through line, is the pursuit of a place to belong and the discombobulation of see-sawing between cultures.
Every piece in this collection is deeply affecting, that strange combination of sweet and soul-crushing. The story of the printer of wedding invitations – The Universe Would Be So Cruel – moved me to literal tears.
The fear and sadness is offset by moments of absurdity and insight. “A laugh, in any language, was a laugh” says one protagonist on page 43, such a simple and beautiful piece of wisdom we would all do well to remember.
I gobbled these stories down, but in retrospect I wish I hadn’t: How To Pronounce Knife would benefit from slow and careful consideration (so I’ll definitely read it again, and soon).