A Boy and His Sister by Thirii Myint

Taken from Kenyon Review Volume II No.4 Found online at http://www.kenyonreview.org/kro_full.php?file=myint.php

The story lacks a straightforward linear narrative but roughly focuses on accounts of a boy and his sister and the struggles they go through. The author has a very interesting technique of establishing potential narratives early on then repeating the basic elements of the narratives after section breaks while changing small points. I feel strongly reminded of Faulkner in novels like Absalom, Absalom and the Sound and the Fury. The point, so far as I can tell, of this technique is to challenge any sort of straightforward linear narrative or at least to mask a story through layers of stories which may or may not be the full account of the real story in question. This comes across in the author’s repeated use of “Say that..” as can be seen in the first paragraph:

Say a boy is born in a village in Vietnam. But he is a Chinese boy, so already his family is different. And on the day this boy is born, his sister falls into the village well and is never seen again. So this sister, she dies in the well. Or say she is seen again, but when they pull her out of the water she is heavy and bloated and purple so it is better to say she is never seen again. And this boy, because he is Chinese, because his sister falls into the well and dies in the well, because all this happens on the day of his birth, this boy is different.

The story raises a number of questions. One thing I was wondering throughout my reading is who the narrator is. This becomes a key question due to the author’s repeated section of her encounter with the boy’s sister and the apparent love between the two. I was wondering if we are supposed to assume that the narrator is Myint herself or an undefined male/female character. I also had trouble piecing together the totality of the narrative though I think there are certain key elements. Besides the obvious encounter between the sister and the narrator and the boy’s trouble with his family, there also seems to be a underlying suggestion that the sister’s death was a suicide due to her lack of reciprocated affection from the narrator.

Overall, I think the story is very good. I didn’t really like it at first but the more I reflect on it the more meaning I feel I can get from it. While it may not have the purse aesthetic pleasure reading a straightforward linear story might have, the story is still very well written and significant for its unique structure.


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