The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Refugees had been on my radar for several weeks – since it was released actually,  because I totally enjoyed The Sympathizer by the same author.   And this book then won several awards (as did The Sympathizer) and then I procrastinated.   And then I got it.  Today.   And I like to buy and read as I go so I read it today.


The Refugees
by Viet Thanh Nguyen
2017/ 224 pages
read by Viet Thanh Nguyen  5h 5m
rating:   9.2  /  stories

“We had no belongings except our stories.”

And that’s the theme and the main arc of the themes.   The refugees each tell their own story –  it’s all they have.

Story 1 –   a young woman works as a ghost writer and then sees ghosts and remembers a tragedy.

Story 2 –  Liam, a vulnerable young gay man,  living in a city in California –  remembers the past and tries to avoid it while he learns how to hope.

Story 3 –  A teenage boy in San Jose  works at his parents’ store called The New Saigon.  The customers speak Vietnamese and barter with his parents.   The story of denial and continued support for a lost cause,  lost people.  (1st person and similar to the author’s own biography.)

Story 4 –  Arthur Arellano eats with his friend Louis Vu in an upscale Vietnamese restaurant in Little Saigon in Orange County California. The two men are connected in more than one way but there has been a serious mix-up and Arthur has nothing much to offer.

Story 5 –  “I Love You To Want Me” –    Professor Khanh who is getting dementia starts calling his wife by a stranger’s name.   A very touching story.

Story 6 – “The Americans”  –  James Carver  (from Alabama)  and his wife Mitchiko (from Japan)  are visiting Cambodia and Vietnam to see their adult daughter Clare who lives there and works as a teacher.   Claire’s boyfriend  Khoi Legaspi  who is Asian appearance is also with them.  At one point Khoi makes a wry comment about being a “black man in Japan.”    Claire is a teacher and has decided to live in Vietnamese and work as a farm person as he had.   Very interesting dream.   Very multi-ethnic and dual generational story,  satirical, my favorite.

Story 7 –  A young male school teacher of Vietnamese heritage whose Vietnamese mother has died recently.   He was born in a refugee camp .  His wife, Sam, is divorcing him because she wants children but he despises his father. So he invited his father to live with him.  This was a mistake – hie father is loco.   Now Sam is pregnant.

Story 8 –  A woman successfully immigrates to the US and returns much later to visit her family –  she gets a lot of surprises but then,  she has a surprise for them, too.

This one needs a reread.  And I may have to read Nguyan’s  award-winning “Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War,”  too.

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