Book 2: The Boat, Nam Le

A dazzling, emotionally riveting debut collection: the seven stories in Nam Le’s The Boat take us across the globe as he enters the hearts and minds of characters from all over the world.

Whether Nam Le is conjuring the story of 14-year-old Juan, a hit man in Colombia; or an aging painter mourning the death of his much-younger lover; or a young refugee fleeing Vietnam, crammed in the ship’s hold with 200 others, the result is unexpectedly moving and powerful.

This is an extraordinary work of fiction that takes us to the heart of what it means to be human, and announces a writer of astonishing gifts.


I first heard of this book a couple of years ago when it was first published. It is a multiple award winner from a debut Australian author, but as it’s a collection of short stories I’ve never given much thought to it. I see it everywhere in plenty of book stores but have never picked it up as I’m not a big fan of short stories. I much prefer to just go for a novel rather than a short story collection. However, it was set on the book list for my English course last semester so I know longer had a choice, I had to read it now.

My first thought was that Le is an amazingly talented writer. Every story is different and yet each of the seven stories is powerful in its own way. And he refuses to stick to just one setting or type of character, instead moving all around the world. There is a story set in Tehran, one in a small Australian town, one in Colombia, another in Hiroshima. In the very first story, Love and Honour and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice, Le writes this: “‘Faulkner, you know,’ my friend said over the squeals, ‘he said we should write about the old verities. Love and honour and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice.'” It feels like this is exactly what Le does in his stories.

Halflead Bay:

This was my favourite out of all the stories. Probably because it was the story I most related to (and not just because this was the story set in Australia). It tells the story of Jamie, a teenage boy gearing up to play in the biggest football match of the year, and his family who are all trying to deal with his mother’s illness. She has multiple sclerosis and is deteriorating quickly.

I immediately connected to the story. My mum has had MS for almost my whole life – she was diagnosed with it while she was pregnant with my younger brother twenty-two years ago. Obviously my mum doesn’t have it in the same way as Jamie’s mother does (my mum’s never had another attack past the debilitating one that left her paralysed for twelve months, twenty-two years ago), and my family isn’t in the same situation, especially as my parents have been divorced for as long as I can remember. But I could see my own family in Jamie’s, I could feel that this could have been my family if my parents had stayed together.

The way Nam Le writes about the disease is just… perfect. There is so much that I could quote from this story but I will limit myself to just two, that still stick out at me:

“She was indefatiguable. If asked, she would say it was just like pins and needles. What was the phrase people used? – she refused to become her illness. She beat it back.” (page 132)

“His mum started coughing.

‘Are you okay?’ his dad asked.

Once she’d fetched her breath she said, ‘Jamie.’

‘Yeah, Mum.’

‘You know what no one ever asks me?’

His dad stared straight ahead, over her shoulder. ‘Ask her,’ he said.

‘What, Mum?’

‘Everyone always asks me if I’m okay. No one ever asks me if I’m happy.'” (page 137)

As you can see, Halflead Bay is still resonating with me, even all these months later.

Favourite stories:

  • Halflead Bay
  • Cartagena
  • Tehran Calling

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone. 🙂


Check out Nam Le’s website, or alternatively, you can like him on Facebook.

You can check out The Boat on Goodreads, or you can order it from Booktopia or Amazon.


Books left: 148

Days left: 567

Leave a comment


  1. mermaidvision

     /  August 26, 2011

    Whoa, I didn’t know you were going to do 150 books!

    This sounds like a collection that I need to pick up. Thanks for the review!


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