Summary and book reviews of The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Refugees

by Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen
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  • Published:
    Feb 2017, 224 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster

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Book Summary

Viet Thanh Nguyen's The Sympathizer was one of the most widely and highly praised novels of 2015. 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.

The Other Man

Liem's plan was to walk calmly past the waiting crowd after he disembarked, but instead he found himself hesitating at the gate, anxiously scanning the strange faces. In one hand he held his duffel bag, and in the other he clutched the form given to him by Mrs. Lindemulder, the woman with the horn-rimmed glasses from the refugee service. When she had seen him off at the San Diego airport, she'd told him his sponsor, Parrish Coyne, would be waiting in San Francisco. The flight was only his second trip by air, and he'd passed it crumpling and uncrumpling an empty pretzel bag, until his seatmate asked him if he would please stop. American etiquette confused him, for Americans could sometimes be very polite, and at other times rather rude, jostling by him as they did now in their rush to disembark. The lingering pressure in his ears bewildered him further, making it hard for him to understand the PA system's distorted English. He was wondering if he was...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The characters in Nguyen's semi-autobiographical short story collection are torn between Vietnam and America. The trauma of history and the uncertainty of their Asian American identity continue to have effects even decades later. The title of this collection, The Refugees, lead me to assume that it would look at different groups of refugees through history or in the present moment, so I felt a bit let down when I realized they all reference Vietnam. However, this is still a strong set of tales that take a long view of the Vietnam War and its ongoing effects on those who fought and those who fled.   (Reviewed by Rebecca Foster).

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Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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.'

Library Journal

Starred Review. For Nguyen groupies desperate for future titles, Refugees is a highly gratifying interlude ... Nguyen won't disappoint. Highly recommended.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Nguyen is the foremost literary interpreter of the Vietnamese experience in America, to be sure. But his stories, excellent from start to finish, transcend ethnic boundaries to speak to human universals.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Little Saigon Enclaves

The name "Little Saigon" is often given to an area where there are a large number of people of Vietnamese origin. When The Refugees author Viet Thanh Nguyen arrived in the United States in the mid '70s at the age of four, he lived in a refugee camp and then with a couple of sponsor families in Pennsylvania before being reunited with his own family. For much of his childhood his family lived in San Jose, California, where his parents owned an ethnic grocery store. San Jose and Orange County, California are the largest and oldest Vietnamese communities in the United States, along with Houston, Texas.

Little Saigon Sign in California Orange County is home to an estimated 189,000 Vietnamese-Americans. The city of Garden Grove in Orange County hosts Tết, the annual ...

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