How to Pronounce Knife: Stories (Hardcover)
There is true, emotional range in this short story collection, and it made me unable to put the book down. The immigrants in these stories experience a wide range of systemic issues that are ingrained in American society. Though the characters face much trauma, reprieve and joy are central and unmistakable themes in each story. Souvankham Thammavongsa reminds us of the human spirit’s resilience and gracefully commands the reader’s empathy by connecting the characters with the small, universal pleasures of life. -Katie
About the Author
Souvankham Thammavongsa was born in the Lao refugee camp in Nong Khai, Thailand and was raised and educated in Toronto. She is the award-winning author of four books of poetry and her fiction has appeared in Harper's, Granta, the Paris Review, Ploughshares, Best American Non-Required Reading 2018, and the O. Henry Prize Stories 2019.
**Named one of the most anticipated books of 2020 by Electric Literature, The Millions, and Ms. Magazine**
rigorous stories are preoccupied with themes of alienation and
dislocation, her characters burdened by the sense of existing unseen... Her gift for the gently absurd means the
stories never feel dour or predictable, even when their outcomes are by some
measure bleak...It is when the characters' sense of alienation follows them home,
into the private space of the family, that Thammavongsa's stories most wrench the heart."
"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 VERONICA and SOMEBODY WITH A LITTLE HAMMER
braced with disarming humor, Thammavongsa offers glimpses into the daily lives
of immigrants and refugees in a nameless city, illuminating the desires,
disappointments, and triumphs of those who so often go unseen...Though short
enough to read in one sitting, [these stories] feel vast in their scope,
offering ample room to wander."
"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 WHAT IS NOT YOURS IS NOT YOURS and GINGERBREAD
"In Thammavongsa's work, refugees don't have to be just tragic or sad but can be imbued with humor, complexity, and the unexpected. Most importantly, Thammavongsa doesn't write for a white audience. She writes, tenderly and profoundly, for her characters. Her love is apparent in her delicate descriptions: confident children protect their parents, workers perform jobs with care and pride, and messy love stories show us that leaving is proof we are alive. The power of How to Pronounce Knife lies in seeing the unseen. I know that firsthand--as the daughter of refugees, I'm able to finally see myself in stories."—ANGELA SO, ELECTRIC LITERATURE
sketches illuminate the workaday routines and the interior lives of Laotian
refugees. Characters who undertake 'the grunt work of the world', laboring in
poultry plants, hog farms, and nail salons, also harbor vivid fantasies... brief
glimpses of freedom in otherwise impenetrable places."
Thammavongsa writes with deep precision, wide-open spaces, and quiet, cool,
emotionally devastating poise. There is not a moment off in these affecting
humor, all of these stories exhibit a fierce pride in what one can accomplish.
After leaving everything behind and dealing with a country that does not cater
to you, one can still celebrate the resilience of the human spirit by merely
radiant debut collection of short stories is full of precarity, strength,
uncertainty, messiness and life."
proves to be razor-sharp."
"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 is one of those books."—ELLE
how power and privilege drive success, how work shapes the immigrant identity,
and how erasure and invisibility lead to isolation."
"With spare, precise prose, Thammavongsa evokes a world of strong emotion made livable by painful, unstable social constraints. The syntactical simplicity of the writing throws the internal complexity of these characters and their situations into stark relief, displaying how restraint can pack an unexpectedly sentimental punch. Quietly poetic, How to Pronounce Knife also produces a shivering recognition in its readers."—SHELF AWARENESS
"Thammavongsa isn't just gifted at exploring the dynamics of families adjusting to new lives, she's also an immensely talented writer. Her gift for poetry translates perfectly into fiction; her prose is spare but vivid, with no wasted words, and she has an unusual gift for descriptions that stick with the reader. How to Pronounce Knife is a wonderful fiction debut that proves to be a perfect showcase for Thammavongsa's skill with language and her abundant compassion. It's also a reminder of our shared humanity at a time when we need it most."—MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE
the literary radar, from a failed boxer turned manicurist to a young woman
working at a chicken processing plant and a mother-daughter worm-harvesting
team, with enough panache to keep the reader gripped throughout."
and it is impossible to let them go. They are sharp and vital. Thammavongsa is
a master over the sentence."
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."
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."
"A book of unusual ferocity and grace. Souvankham Thammavongsa carefully unpacks the aches and aspirations of immigrant and refugee life 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 RUN ME TO EARTH
immigrants in America."
"Thammavongsa has shown herself to bea master of controlled intimacy, eschewing preciousness in favor of aclear-eyed humanity...What all the storieshave in common is the stubbornness of desire manifested by the characters,whether it is the desire to defend your parents against mockery, the desire tofit in, the desire for physical intimacy, or the desire to be seen...This sharpinterplay between defiance and desire throughout the collection is a welcomestrike to narratives that are often demanded of refugee writers--narrativesladen with nobility, the commodification of trauma, and respectability politics...Instead of being foreigners in a newland, these characters make foreigners out of those who would pity them...Thammavongsa hasmade English speak to us in her own language."—PLOUGHSHARES
showcases 14 spectacular stories in her fiction debut...a poignant,
short fiction: think Paul Yoon, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Phil Klay."
in a spare, distant register, twist the heart; Thammavongsa captures in a few
well-chosen words how it feels for immigrant children to protect their parents. Moving, strange, and occasionally piercing."
and elegant. . . These brief stories pack a punch,
punctuated by direct prose that's full of acute observations...This is a potent