Book Review: “The Refugees” by Viet Thanh Nguyen


Many thanks to NetGalley and Grove Atlantic for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Edition: eGalley (224 pages)

Published on: February 7, 2017 (Grove Atlantic)

Genre: Short Stories, Historical Fiction

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Goodreads summary: 

Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer was one of the most widely and highly praised novels of 2015, the winner not only of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, but also the Center for Fiction Debut Novel Prize, the Edgar Award for Best First Novel, the ALA Carnegie Medal for Fiction, the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, and the California Book Award for First Fiction. Nguyen’s next fiction book, The Refugees, is a collection of perfectly formed stories written over a period of twenty years, exploring questions of immigration, identity, love, and family.

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. The 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 thoughts:

I was beyond excited to receive an early copy of this book of short stories. We’ve been reading and writing a lot of short stories in my classes this semester, so reading these stories by a Pulitzer prize-winning writer was a real treat.

I love immigrant stories, and these own voices narratives of Vietnamese immigration were right up my alley. Viet Thanh Nguyen never falls into one voice or one type of story. This collection kept me on my toes the entire time, and every new story was fresh. I’ve never been a huge fan of short story collections because I feel that they can fall into the realm of monotony for me, but The Refugees didn’t even come close to that.

Nguyen’s characters were all different. Some of the stories took place in Vietnam, some in Little Saigon in the United States. As someone who knew next to nothing about Vietnam and its culture before picking up this book, I found myself doing some serious Googling after I was about a story or two in. If you love to learn about new cultures, please read this book. I was never lost; I was just in the sweet spot between understanding and confusion, which I like to call learning.

This collection is a quick and beautiful read, on top of being incredibly timely. I especially think it’s important for Americans to read, since many of us know someone who fought in Vietnam, and many of the stories provide a perspective on that conflict that I know I never had or even looked into.

I cannot wait to pick up Nguyen’s book The Sympathizer, which is supposed to be just amazing, and since I loved these stories so much I can only imagine I will enjoy it immensely. He is an immigrant writer who we should all be listening to.

If you only have time for one or two stories, I would recommend “Black-Eyed Women,” the first story in the collection, and also a ghost story that pulled me in and made me fall in love with the writing style. I highlighted so many pieces in this story. I’d also suggest “I’d Love You to Want Me” which is a beautiful story about a woman’s husband forgetting who she is in his old age.

Overall, I loved this collection, and I think absolutely everyone should pick it up. It has inspired me to learn and write more openly and freely.

Thanks for reading!



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