Reading Nam Le's The Boat, it is hard to believe that such rich characters could exist within the confines of a single writer's mind, much less the pages of one collection of seven stories. Le's characters range from an elderly artist living in New York to a young high school boy in Australia to a woman in Tehran, and are so fully realized that on the rare occasion that the reader is pulled out of the story, it's only to wonder, "My God, how does this writer do this? How does he know all of these people and their stories?" The collection is bookended by "Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice," in which the narrator shares Le's ethnic background and other biographical similarities, and "The Boat," which chronicles a group of Vietnamese refugees fleeing across the South China Sea. In these two, Le does what he does best: tells tales about people in some of their most trying, life-changing moments. By revealing the stories to us in individual, precise moments and thoughts, Le creates characters who defy cliché and melodrama, yet still live under the specter of history and social context.
Thu., June 12, 7:30 p.m., 2008