From the author of The Sympathizer, winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, The Refugees is the second piece of fiction from a powerful voice in American letters, praised as “beautiful and heartrending” (Joyce Carol Oates, New Yorker), “terrific” (Chicago Tribune), and “an important and incisive book” (Washington Post)
Published in hardcover to astounding acclaim, The Refugees is the remarkable debut collection of short stories by Viet Thanh Nguyen, winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his novel The Sympathizer. In these powerful stories, written over a period of twenty years and set in both Vietnam and America, Nguyen paints a vivid portrait of the experiences of people leading lives between two worlds, the adopted homeland and the country of birth.
With the same incisiveness as in The Sympathizer, in The Refugees Viet Thanh Nguyen gives voice to the hopes and expectations of people making life-changing decisions to leave one country for another, and the rifts in identity, loyalties, romantic relationships, and family that accompany relocation. 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 migration.
The second work 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.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Viet Thanh Nguyen won the Pulitzer Prize for his astonishing novel The Sympathizer. We think this short story collection will only raise his profile—it’s that good and that relevant. Nguyen captures the profound trauma of the refugee experience in a way that’s compellingly readable, full of sly wit and universal emotion. There are ghosts here and sexual awakening and everyday disappointments. We’ll be coming back to these stories again and again.
Each searing tale in Nguyen's follow-up to the Pulitzer-winning The Sympathizer is a pressure cooker of unease, simmering with unresolved issues of memory and identity for the Vietnamese whose lives were disrupted by the "American War." In "Black-Eyed Woman," a writer is visited by the ghost of her teenage brother, who was murdered trying to save her from Thai pirates while fleeing the Vietcong. "War Years" is about a family of Vietnamese grocers in San Jose, Calif., challenged by another refugee to donate money to rebels still fighting the Communists back home. When an armed intruder invades the family's home, the piercing irony is that their youngest son thinks it's safe to open the door because the man is white. In "The Transplant," Arthur Arellano is the recipient of a new liver from Men Vu, a Vietnamese man killed in a hit-and-run, whose son befriends him, then makes him complicit in his shady business selling fake designer goods. The most disturbing story is "Fatherland," in which a man names his second set of children in Vietnam after his first set, who have fled to America with his first wife. When the American Phuong (now Vivien) visits her sister Phuong in Vietnam, Vivien reveals she is not the doctor her mother boasted she was. It is clear that author Nguyen believes the Vietnamese Phuong, more self-aware and resolute, is better off than her American doppelganger. Nguyen is not here to sympathize "always resent, never relent," as the anti-Communist exiles proclaimed in The Sympathizer but to challenge the experience of white America as the invisible norm.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Refugee, American, Human
Viet Thanh won me over with his Pulitzer Prize winning work, “The Sympathizer.” I’ve been greatly anticipating reading this collection of short stories for many reasons. One, it was another work by Viet Thanh, that I knew would be beautifully crafted. Two, short stories are perhaps my favorite format of story telling. To me, they reflect best the way we really know most people. Small vignettes into the lives of others; rarely the complete beginning, middle, and end. Third, the Vietnamese Refugee experience is particularly of interest to me because it is the story of my wife and her family’s journey to America.
It’s Viet Thanh’s writing style that really makes these stories come to life. To write in one’s own voice, perspective, and experience is hard enough. Ask anyone who has ever tried. To be able to do it wonderfully and engagingly is why the reader seeks books. It really speaks to Viet Thanh’s talent that he can write in so many disparate voices, illustrate life from varying perspectives, and take us through a myriad of experiences.
This collection reminds me of Hemingway’s “Bagombo Snuff Box” book of short stories. Like Hemingway, you can see the painstaking attention to detail in every line and in the intentionality of the spaces in-between; everything left unsaid. Even more, Viet Thanh starts and stops at moments in the lives of the characters much like the moments where there is a break in the storm. A brief glimpse of the sky and sun, before the canvass of life is covered again in clouds. He is by far one my favorite contemporary writers.