In this sharply observed and erotically charged debut collection, Journey Prize-winner Yasuko Thanh immerses us in the lives of people on the knife edge of desire and regret, hungry for change yet still yearning for a place to call home, if only for a little while.
In a story set in 1960s Germany and crackling with sexual tension, a young woman on the verge of making a life-changing decision is sent to work as a homemaker for a farmer and his family while his wife is away. When his dying lover becomes convinced he is being visited by a ghost, a man is forced to confront his own fears about being left behind. In a Mexican resort town where anything goes, a woman searching for a place to belong pushes herself to the limits of love and despair. And in the Journey Prize-winning story "Floating Like the Dead," a group of Chinese lepers spend their last days dreaming of escape after they are exiled to a remote island off the coast of B.C., at the turn of the twentieth century.
Many of the characters in these stories are expats, outlaws, and outsiders, some by choice, others by circumstance. Yet in their struggles to be themselves and to belong, they remind us of our own deepest longings and desires. With this seductive and emotionally compelling collection, Yasuko Thanh announces herself as an exciting new voice in Canadian fiction.
YASUKO THANH's work has appeared in numerous publications, including Prairie Fire, Descant, PRISM international, and Vancouver Review. The title story, "Floating Like the Dead," won the prestigious Writers' Trust of Canada/McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize in 2009. She was a finalist for the Future Generations Millennium Prize, the Hudson Prize, and the David Adams Richards Prize, which recognizes unpublished manuscripts. She recently received her MFA from the University of Victoria. She has lived in Mexico, Germany, and Latin America, and now lives in Victoria.
“Set in various time periods, on various continents, with characters that span cultures, these stories demonstrate a great gift of voice, and an extremely versatile talent. Exotic as Thanh’s characters may be, they are instantly recognizable. Their various struggles are heartbreaking yet never sentimental. Not many collections are this colourful, and this entertaining. Mostly, these are stories about yearning in its many and various guises, and Thanh’s not inconsiderable achievement is to reveal the universality of the human heart.”
—Jury citation for the Danuta Gleed Literary Award (Bill Gaston, Alexander MacLeod, and Carol Malyon)
“Yasuko Thanh’s “Spring-blade Knife” is notable for its a rich, nuanced writing style that draws a reader into both the story and the characters with succinct and descriptive words. Her portrayal of a criminal creates sympathy where there should be very little. An excellent example of a literary short story with an underbelly of crime and a lesson about the human condition.”
—Jury citation for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Short Story for “Spring-Blade Knife,” from Floating Like the Dead
“Enchanting. . . . Across all the stories of her debut, Thanh exhibits a fascination for often rootless or displaced characters – as well as smart women who are fools for love – whose hungering for transformative experience and surrender to wanderlust rarely produce the expected results. . . . A prize-winner well before the publication of her first book, Yasuko Thanh impresses above all with the thematic complexity of her approach. Coupling a globetrotter’s perspective and historical curiosity to that, her stories conjure vignettes of troubling existence, where change is possible but outcomes deviate far from plans.”
“A fabulous collection of short stories. . . . Yasuko Thanh has this wonderful way of finding exactly the right details to relate in the story to illuminate every one of [her] characters. She then transcends whatever those specifics are to reflect on some greater aspect of the human condition. . . . It doesn’t seem to matter where she goes, Thanh manages to get these essential details right and that allows the reader to be transported. . . . Each one of these [stories is] a deeply satisfying read. . . . Floating Like the Dead is a fictional feast. . . .I loved it.”
—All Points West (CBC Radio)
“Carefully observed . . . [“Floating Like the Dead”] is a poignant, deeply poetic examination of society’s castoffs. Sidestepping melodrama and sentimentality, Thanh offers a fascinating splinter-view of humanity. Her tale is heartbreaking. . . . These stories, written over a decade, are beautifully composed. Thanh writes with economy and nuance, but at the same time, her subject matter is bold.”
—Victoria Times Colonist
“Brutal in its honesty as it is tender in its sentimentality, Floating Like the Dead peers into moments of life that we might otherwise have overlooked. . . . Lending each of [her] characters the benefit of her attention and arresting prose, she makes each character all the more remarkable. What is perhaps most impressive is the sheer territory Thanh covers in just nine stories. We travel across six countries and through as many time periods in the slim volume. Equally impressive is the range of narrative styles and voices Thanh is able to inhabit. . . . It only takes a moment for Thanh’s stories to drawn you in, but you will be contemplating them for a long time to come.”
“Thanh’s writing is exploratory, capricious and memorable.”
"Using artfully simple language, Thanh has crafted a story of powerfully resonant emotion with tremendous restraint -- a gift that respects both her characters and her readers."
—Journey Prize jury citation for "Floating Like the Dead"
“Yasuko Thanh is a one-of-a-kind writer who perfectly inhabits the voices of her characters, whether they’re living on the margins or in the shadows of history. No matter where her stories take us, Thanh’s prose shines with true, living detail.”
“A masterful first book: wise, capricious, moving, and exotic. Here’s a dexterous hand guiding characters we won’t soon forget. These stories show us the many routes of the heart.”
“Thanh’s stories arrive as advertised – afloat on gorgeous prose, populated by men and women who hover at edge of life’s grand transitions. A remarkable debut by an observant and talented writer.”
"Yasuko Thanh writes with a tiger's eye for detail. Her sentences haunt, images flash like lightning. She is a major talent.”
“Thanh often focuses her skills on those near society’s edges: the condemned, the fugitive, the lonely, grappling with dislocated identities. The works here glide across the decades, dropping us into small worlds alive with detail, in places as far afield as Mexico and Vietnam. In their variety, they show how many paths lie open to Thanh’s emerging talent.”
—Bryan Lynch, Georgia Straight
Whether she’s writing about the Saigon or the Deep South, Victoria’s Yasuko Thanh knows how to lure a reader. In Floating Like The Dead– her first collection of short stories – the author baits each page with a lush cast of characters. From a Texan teen who chooses to elope with her criminal boyfriend to a love-burned wife realizing her worth Than’s heroes make her literary debut a memorable one.