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Winners

2009Fiction

The Boat

Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf

Nam Le

Nam Le

From a Colombian slum to the streets of Tehran, seven characters in seven stories struggle with very particular Swords of Damocles in Pushcart Prize winner Le’s accomplished debut. In Halflead Bay, an Australian mother begins an inevitable submission to multiple sclerosis as her teenage son prepares for the biggest soccer game of his life. The narrator of “Meeting Elise,” a successful but ailing artist in Manhattan, mourns his dead lover as he anticipates meeting his daughter for the first time since she was an infant.

The opening story, “Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice,” features a Vietnamese character named Nam who is struggling to complete his Iowa Writer’s Workshop master’s as his father comes for a tense visit, the first since an earlier estrangement shattered the family. The story’s ironies—You could totally exploit the Vietnamese thing, says a fellow student to Nam—are masterfully controlled by Le, and reverberate through the rest of this peripatetic collection. Taken together, the stories cover a vast geographic territory (Le was born in Vietnam and immigrated to Australia) and are filled with exquisitely painful and raw moments of revelation, captured in an economical style as deft as it is sure.

Nam Le was born in Vietnam and raised in Australia. After working in the law, he came to America to attend the Iowa Writers’ Workshop as a Truman Capote Fellow. He has also received fellowships from the Michener-Copernicus Society of America, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown and Phillips Exeter Academy.

His fiction has won the Pushcart Prize and appeared in venues including Best American Nonrequired Reading 2007, Zeotrope: All-Story, A Public Space, and One Story. He is currently the fiction editor of the Harvard Review. He divides his time between Australia and the United States.