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Q&A: Montreal author Kim Thuy on her Order of Canada honour and her novel becoming a box office hit

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"Exquisite." "Enchanting." "Poetic." Just some of the words critics have used to describe the best-selling novel Ru by Montreal writer Kim Thúy.

It was first published in French in 2009. Since then, it’s been translated and published in 15 countries.

It’s also been adapted into a film, now playing in theatres. Since its release at the end of November, it’s made more than $1.5 million at the box office.

There’s more: just before the new year, Thúy was appointed to the Order of Canada.

She joined CTV News Montreal anchor Maya Johnson for an interview to talk about the new film and the big year she's had.

This article has been edited for clarity and length. Watch the video above for the full interview.

CTV: Congratulations on the release of the film, its success. You are on the cover of Elle Quebec and now named to the Order of Canada, so 2023 obviously, was a big year for you. It must have been a whirlwind. How are you feeling about all of this?

THÚY: I've been in Canada for 44 years now. And it has been a party for the last 44 years. Every year it's a new horizon opening up because this country gives us all the freedom to be who we want to be and it gives you all the tools to learn and to grow and to deploy. It has not stopped. I've been partying for 44 years.

CTV: I love that description. It's so joyful, despite the darkness of some of your past experiences. The novel and movie was based on your own life experience as a Vietnamese immigrant coming to Quebec among the boat people after the war. What was it like to see your story come alive on the big screen?

THÚY: There have not been so many books or movies made about the boat people. Maybe because we're too new or we've been too busy. We are in great numbers. But somehow, there are not enough books, for sure, and not enough movies. So I feel very fortunate that we get to tell the story, especially the story of how we had been welcomed here in this country. And the important message for me here is to show how the people who welcomed us in Granby, where I arrived, didn't expect anything from us. We didn't speak French so for them to open their arms to people who couldn't even say 'Thank you." They still do, they did.

That kind of love is so pure, it's so beautiful. The movie is an opportunity to remind us all that we are this beautiful together. We have done this before, and we are continuing doing this and I hope it will continue to be this way.

CTV: Early in the book, there's a scene describing Tinh's arrival at Mirabel airport and seeing snow for the first time. And you write, "After such a long time in places without light, a landscape so white, so virginal could only dazzle us, blind us, intoxicate us," and that really stuck with me because I remember my own mother telling me as an immigrant from Jamaica to Quebec that she was so struck by the snow when she saw it for the first time. She was living in her first apartment in Montreal, and she opened the window and she was touching that fresh, fluffy, fallen snow and it's just a lasting memory. So I guess those are the memories that stay with you and define how you arrived in the country?

THÚY: Absolutely. Because when you have never seen snow you cannot believe the luminosity of snow and the virginity. We arrived from a refugee camp and from a country in chaos and at war, so, of course, to see the whole territory covered in fresh snow there's nothing more beautiful than that. I still feel the same kind of awe at every first snow.

But I must say that what has changed me was the generosity of the people who welcomed us. We were arriving from a refugee camp all covered with infections from mosquito bites, insect bites, we had lice in our hair. Somehow, these people did not hesitate for one second to take us into their arms physically. And look at us as if we were treasures coming from the sky. I said to myself, I said I have never seen myself as beautiful before. And I have never seen myself as beautiful again, because they had given me back, in a fraction of a second, the dignity that we lost in the refugee camp. There's humanity that we lost.

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