Named one of the best books of April by The New York Times, Salon, The Millions, and Vogue, and featuring stories that have appeared in Harper's, Granta, The Atlantic, and The Paris Review, this revelatory book of fiction from O. Henry Award winner Souvankham Thammavongsa establishes her as an essential new voice in Canadian and world literature. Told with compassion and wry humour, these stories honour characters struggling to find their bearings far from home, even as they do the necessary "grunt work of the world."
A young man painting nails at the local salon. A woman plucking feathers at a chicken processing plant. A father who packs furniture to move into homes he'll never afford. A housewife learning English from daytime soap operas. In her stunning debut book of fiction, 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.
A daughter becomes an unwilling accomplice in her mother's growing infatuation with country singer Randy Travis. A boxer finds an unexpected chance at redemption while working at his sister's nail salon. An older woman finds her assumptions about the limits of love unravelling when she begins a relationship with her much younger neighbour. A school bus driver must grapple with how much he's willing to give up in order to belong. And in the Commonwealth Short Story Prize-shortlisted title story, a young girl's unconditional love for her father transcends language.
Unsentimental yet tender, and fiercely alive, How to Pronounce Knife announces Souvankham Thammavongsa as one of the most striking voices of her generation.
SOUVANKHAM THAMMAVONGSA's fiction has appeared in Harper's, Granta, The Atlantic, The Paris Review, Ploughshares, Best American Non-Required Reading, The Journey Prize Stories, and The O. Henry Prize Stories. How to Pronounce Knife is her debut book of fiction, and the title story was a finalist for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. Thammavongsa is also the author of four poetry books: Light, winner of the Trillium Book Award for Poetry; Found; Small Arguments, winner of the ReLit Award; and, most recently, Cluster. Born in the Lao refugee camp in Nong Khai, Thailand, she was raised and educated in Toronto, where she is at work on her first novel.
Advance Praise for How to Pronounce Knife:
"Spectacular . . . a poignant, eyes-wide-open exploration." —Library Journal (STARRED review)
"A stunningly beautiful collection of short stories." —Toronto Star
"Beautifully crafted. . . . These stories have a quiet brilliance in their raw portrayal of the struggle to find meaning in difficult times and to belong in a foreign place. Thammavongsa writes with an elegance that is both brutal and tender, giving her stories and their characters a powerful voice." —Booklist (STARRED review)
"Every once in a while, you come across a book with writing so breathtaking that you take note of the author so you can read everything they ever write in the future. How to Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa is one of those books." —Elle Canada
"Thammavongsa's radiant debut collection of short stories is full of precarity, strength, uncertainty, messiness and life." —Ms. Magazine
"These poignant and deceptively quiet stories are powerhouses of feeling and depth; How to Pronounce Knife is an artful blend of simplicity and sophistication." —Mary Gaitskill, author of Don't Cry and Because They Wanted To
"How to Pronounce Knife is a book of rarest beauty and power. Souvankham Thammavongsa has already earned a devoted readership for her poetry. And in each of these exquisitely crafted stories, we experience the profound emotional effects of economy and distillation. We feel the reverberating energy around each judiciously placed word. This is one of the great short story collections of our time. Do not miss it." —David Chariandy, author of Brother and I've Been Meaning to Tell You
“Souvankham Thammavongsa writes with deep precision, wide-open spaces, and quiet, cool, emotionally devastating poise. There is not a moment off in these affecting stories.” —Sheila Heti, author of How Should a Person Be? and Motherhood
“I love these stories. There’s some fierce and steady activity in all of the sentences—something that makes them live, and makes them shift a little in meaning when you look at them again and they look back at you (or look beyond you).” —Helen Oyeyemi, author of Gingerbread and What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours
"How to Pronounce Knife is a riveting, subversive collection that alights within us like a shock to the system. I find it miraculous—and liberating and joyful—that language so radiantly exact can be so raw, so brazen. This is a major work and a lasting one." —Madeleine Thien, author of Do Not Say We Have Nothing
"How to Pronounce Knife is a masterfull collection, written with so much veracity, you'll swear every word is true." —Sharon Bala, author of The Boat People
"How to Pronounce Knife is a book of unusual ferocity and grace. Souvankham Thammavongsa carefully unpacks the aches and aspirations of immigrant and refugee lfe in tight, commanding prose; and these subtle yet shattering stories glow with empathy, humor, and wisdom." —Mia Alvar, author of In the Country
"Reading Souvankham Thammavongsa's How to Pronounce Knife is like finding, at last, a part of you that you had lost and had been searching for all this time. Not since the stories of Edward P. Jones have I encountered such a unified and yet wide-ranging vision—both geographically and emotionally—that captures the spirit of not only a community but of the greater world—then, now, the future. This is a book full of powerful resilience, great journeys, and above all else: fierce, heart-wrenching love." —Paul Yoon, author of Snow Hunters and Run Me to Earth
“Sharp and elegant. . . Thammavongsa’s brief stories pack a punch, punctuated by direct prose that’s full of acute observations.”—Publishers Weekly