This collection of short stories is a literary debut of Souvankham Thammavongsa, Canadian writer of Lao origin. It portrays daily lives of the members of diaspora in a compelling, memorable way. The stories which emerge here are by no means nostalgic or heavily depressive. Rather, they negotiate the space in between sadness and appreciation of life by showing how the two mix in the everyday.
How to Pronounce Knife shows a stark divide between generations — the young grow up in the new culture adapt to the new language and customs quickly and without hesitation, while their parents spend their days slaving away, usually doing some kind of strenuous physical labour.
Souvankham Thammavongsa’s biography could inspire many such stories. She was born in a refugee camp for Lao people in Thailand but grew up in Toronto, where she ended up thanks to the generosity of her sponsors. Poetry became her outlet of choice, allowing her to process intense emotions and problems she encountered with the new language and environment. Her works were quickly noticed and awarded and her name is often mentioned among other Canadian and American authors of Asian origin, including: Ocean Vuong, Te-Ping Chen, Frances Cha .
How to Pronounce Knife should be added to our to read lists also because it presents a voice from Laos, a country which we still have a lot to learn about.