Book Review: The Refugees

Book Review: The RefugeesThe Refugees
by Viet Thanh Nguyen
on February 7th 2017
Pages: 224
Published by Grove Press
Genres: Literary Fiction, Multicultural, Short Stories

With the coruscating gaze that informed The Sympathizer, in The Refugees Viet Thanh Nguyen gives voice to lives led between two worlds, the adopted homeland and the country of birth. From a young Vietnamese refugee who suffers profound culture shock when he comes to live with two gay men in San Francisco, to a woman whose husband is suffering from dementia and starts to confuse her for a former lover, to a girl living in Ho Chi Minh City whose older half-sister comes back from America having seemingly accomplished everything she never will, the stories are a captivating testament to the dreams and hardships of immigration.

This second piece of fiction by a major new voice in American letters, The Refugees is a beautifully written and sharply observed book about the aspirations of those who leave one country for another, and the relationships and desires for self-fulfillment that define our lives.

My Takeaway 
“For all refugees, everywhere” – Dedication in The Refugees

“In a country where possessions counted for everything, we had no belongings except our stories.”  Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Refugees

Holy moly! What an incredible, emotional and remarkable book! I am honestly having a hard time coming up with the right words for this review – I feel it deserves so much more than my unsophisticated writing skills. Nguyen is an eloquent, perceptive, brilliant writer and storyteller. The eight stories featured in The Refugees are powerful, compassionate, and moving. Every day, hundreds of individuals are displaced and must flee their homes and countries. Many refugees fear for their lives and must leave without notice, leaving everything they love behind. The Refugees deals with their immigrant experiences, and the risks they endure for a chance of a better future and life. Nguyen brilliantly brings his characters’ triumphs and sorrows to life. One particular story, “The Warriors” is about Nguyen’s own family’s experience, “…the story “Warriors” about the child of refugee shopkeepers and what happens to that family, that is drawn very much from my life and the lives of my parents. And it was a very difficult story to write because I think my parents’ lives are worthy of writing about. I don’t think my life is particularly worthy of writing about.” With the current political climate in the United States, there is an urgent need for books such as The Refugees to be written and read by all. Get yourself a copy of this book from the bookstore or borrow it from the library or friend – just make sure you read it!

Side note: I was fortunate to meet and hear Viet at the Central Library in Arlington, Virginia. He is extremely funny, smart and genuine – a great human being!


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