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The Refugees Hardcover – February 7, 2017
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Praise for The Refugees:
An Amazon Best Book of the Month (Literature and Fiction)
A New York Times Editors’ Choice
An Indie Next Selection
“Stories about people poised between their devastated homeland and their affluent adopted country . . . Viet Thanh Nguyen [is] one of our great chroniclers of displacement . . . beautiful and heartrending . . . Nguyen’s narrative style―restrained, spare, avoiding metaphor or the syntactical virtuosity on display in every paragraph of The Sympathizer―is well suited for portraying tentative states . . . all Nguyen’s fiction is pervaded by a shared intensity of vision, by stinging perceptions that drift like windblown ashes.”―Joyce Carol Oates, New Yorker
“These stories of Vietnamese refugees cast a lingering spell . . . [A] superb new collection . . . The collection’s subtle, attentive prose and straightforward narrative style perfectly suit the low-profile civilian lives it explores . . . With the volume turned down, we lean in more closely, listening beyond what the refugees say to step into their skins.”―New York Times Book Review
“A beautiful collection that deftly illustrates the experiences of the kinds of people our country has, until recently, welcomed with open arms . . . It’s hard not to feel for Nguyen’s characters . . . But Nguyen never asks the reader to pity them; he wants us only to see them as human beings. And because of his wonderful writing, it’s impossible not to do so. It’s an urgent, wonderful collection that proves that fiction can be more than mere storytelling―it can bear witness to the lives of people who we can’t afford to forget.”―NPR Books
“The Refugees is as impeccably written as it is timed . . . This is an important and incisive book written by a major writer with firsthand knowledge of the human rights drama exploding on the international stage―and the talent to give us inroads toward understanding it . . . It is refreshing and essential to have this work from a writer who knows and feels the terrain on an intellectual, emotional and cellular level―it shows . . . An exquisite book.”―Washington Post
“The Refugees arrives right on time . . . In The Refugees, such figures aren’t, contra Trump, an undifferentiated, threatening mass. They are complicatedly human and deserving our care and empathy . . . In our moment, to look faithfully and empathetically at the scars made by dislocation, to bear witness to the past pain and present vulnerability such scars speak of, is itself a political act. So, too, is Nguyen’s dedication: ‘For all refugees, everywhere.’”―Boston Globe
“Wistfulness threads through The Refugees like an anthem of displacement. The text is barbed with subtle humor that is wry and painful. The resulting stories are beautiful in their astringency and shifting points of view . . . Nguyen’s writing travels along a spine of moral reckoning . . . The collection casts a formidable spell, especially at this political moment . . . Very little is forgettable in these lapidary stories.”―Los Angeles Times
“Tragically good timing . . . A short-story collection mostly plumbing the experience of boat-bound Vietnamese who escaped to California . . . But there are others of different nationalities, alienated not from a nation but from love or home, and displaced in subtler ways . . . Ultimately, Nguyen enlarges empathy, the high ideal of literature and the enemy of hate and fear.”―New York
“The 2016 Pulitzer Prize winner returns with a beautifully crafted collection that explores the netherworld of Vietnamese refugees, whose lives and cultural dislocation he dissects with precision and grace.”―O, The Oprah Magazine
“The Refugees is both timely, given the current debate about refugees in America, and timeless in its exploration of universal human struggles. This gorgeous collection of short stories recalls Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies, but with Vietnam as the loose center around which the richly drawn characters orbit . . . The writing in The Refugees is resonant and evocative, abounding with delightful descriptions . . . A must-read.”―Associated Press
“[A] quietly profound peek into the lives of Vietnam’s deracinated and dispossessed . . . Absorb[s] both the nostalgia and bitterness that have characterized so many refugees in the decades since 1975, when South Vietnam fell to the communist North and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese began streaming out of their homeland.”―San Francisco Chronicle
“The Refugees showcases the same astute and penetrating intelligence that characterized [Nguyen’s] Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Sympathizer . . . Nguyen is an expert on prickly family dynamics . . . He can also be a sly humorist . . . The Refugees confirms Nguyen as an agile, trenchant writer, able to inhabit a number of contrary points of view. And it whets your appetite for his next novel.”―Seattle Times
“A terrific new book of short stories . . . Nguyen is an exceptional storyteller who packs an enormous amount of information and images into a short work . . . Nguyen’s vision of the Vietnamese migration to the United States and its impact on the nation is complex. His message is not Pollyannaish or demonizing . . . Nguyen’s message, instead, is that they are people, like all of us, with complicated lives and histories. ”―Chicago Tribune
“[A] timely story collection . . . As our first major Vietnamese-American writer, Nguyen is a prodigious genius making up for lost time.”―Newsday
“The perfect book to read at this historical moment in America . . . With the self-reflection of memoir and the clear-eyed, impartial narration of a history, Nguyen takes readers deep inside his characters in a mere few pages . . . Eye-opening . . . Read it now, or read it later―but read it.”―Huffington Post
“Delicately captures the traumas and triumphs of the migrant experience . . . [A] poignant collection of short stories . . . Powerful . . . Nguyen’s stories are to be admired for their ability to encompass not only the trauma of forced migration but also the grand themes of identity, the complications of love and sexuality, and the general awkwardness of being . . . They are also humorous and smart . . . Nguyen writes . . . with a unique poetry.”―Financial Times (UK)<
“At a time when paranoia about refugees and migrants has reached a new high in America and perhaps the world, Viet Thanh Nguyen’s first collection of short stories, The Refugees, adds a necessary voice humanizing this group of demonized people . . . These eight works celebrate the art of telling stories as an act of resilience and survival . . . A beautifully written collection, filled with empathy and insight into the lives of people who have too often been erased from the larger American media landscape.”―Dallas Morning News
“The Refugees is the book we need now . . . [Nguyen’s] new short story collection demonstrates the richness of the refugee experience―and highlights its singular traumas . . . The most timely short story collection in recent memory . . . The stories in The Refugees [are] haunting and heart-wrenching, but also wry and unapologetic in their humanity . . . Throughout, Nguyen demonstrates the richness of the refugee experience, while also foregrounding the very real trauma that lies at its core.”―BuzzFeed
“The Refugees is full of complicated family dynamics, cultural rifts and surprising resolutions . . . The eight unpredictable and moving stories that make up The Refugees are a remarkable achievement.”―Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Viet Thanh Nguyen’s haunting and timely short story collection . . . Nguyen . . . deftly sketches characters caught in the limbo of dislocation with power and grace . . . These are stories worth meditation, each an arresting glimpse into the enduring disruption of flight and relocation.”―Columbus Dispatch
“With masterful economy and ease, the Pulitzer Prize-winner subverts our expectations of the refugee experience . . . [An] extraordinary collection . . . Despite the many accolades heaped upon Nguyen . . . it still comes as a revelation just how begui¬ling these stories are. Sharp, sardonic, poignant and profoundly human . . . The true power of this collection lies in the way Nguyen subverts stereo-typical notions of the refugee experi¬ence, both sharpening and stretching our appreciation of its vast, universal dimensions in stories that range across generations, gender and time . . . Nguyen also possesses an extraordinary ability to evoke the everyday, the quotidian details of ordinary lives in vivid, direct prose.”―South China Morning Post
“The Refugees will haunt its readers, especially in these times, when refugee stories need to be told, shared, and told again, ad infinitum.”―A.V. Club
“Nguyen’s stories deal with ghosts and patriotism, mental illness and infidelity, and gender roles and homosexuality, among other topics that highlight the tensions and complexities involved in the refugees’ search for identity and belonging. The stories humanize Vietnamese-Americans who do not always fit the inflexible ‘model minority’ stereotype. They take a segment of the American population not always on the social radar and bring it into sharp relief.”―America Magazine
“In the US, two kinds of stories typically exist about Vietnam and its people: jungles and napalm, or protest and politics. A new collection of short stories by Viet Thanh Nguyen will change that . . . Nguyen . . . is an expert on the implications of displacement . . . A worthy reminder that refugees are children, mothers, and fathers―not just casualties.”―Quartz
“[A] sophisticated collection . . . Many of these short stories are bona fide perfect . . . Each story is so smooth that you don’t at first realise how richly the author is layering his worlds . . . Nguyen’s character studies are languorous and spacious, a collection that feels like a whole.”―Saturday Paper
“Excellent . . . Nguyen conveys the trauma and lingering melancholy of displacement in a way that feels deeply honest yet still wonderfully imaginative . . . Nguyen has a remarkable eye for detail that allows him to cast every image with real emotional force . . . Nguyen’s writing is lyrical and searingly evocative . . . An essential read for anyone seeking to understand the immigrant experience . . . Nguyen’s writing―as polished and powerful as it was in The Sympathizer―confirms the author’s place among today’s most compelling literary voices.”―Harvard Crimson
“The stories abound with images of doubleness and surreal twists of perception, often imbuing the narratives with a dreamlike clarity and strangeness . . . Throughout the collection Nguyen crafts a personal language and imagery superbly fitted to each character’s volatile, near-inexpressible memories and reflections. He instinctively understands what to leave off the page and what to include, and when to allow readers to fill in the most painful details for themselves.”―Toronto Star
“[An] accomplished collection . . . With anger but not despair, with reconciliation but not unrealistic hope, and with genuine humour that is not used to diminish anyone, Nguyen has breathed life into many unforgettable characters, and given us a timely book focusing, in the words of Willa Cather, on ‘the slow working out of fate in people of allied sentiment and allied blood.’”―Guardian
“With President Trump’s recent attempt to ban refugees from entering America, the quiet but impressively moving tales dissecting the Vietnamese experience in California in Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Refugees are a powerful antidote to all the fear mongering and lies out there . . . A rich exploration of human identity, family ties and love and loss, never has a short story collection been timelier.”―Independent (UK)
“This stunning collection of stories affirms the brilliance of Nguyen . . . A collection of exceptional stories that ring with topicality and truth . . . The opening story, ‘Black-Eyed Women’ . . . is a superbly orchestrated piece of writing, with many movements and depths, moving across generations . . . The Refugees is a book that needs to be read: it is astonishingly good.”―RTÉ Guide (Ireland)
“A timely look at lives of outsiders in America . . . [Nguyen’s] understanding of the refugee tragedy . . . is profound. Yet, the abiding power of these intelligent, crafted stories is his reading of human nature in domestic situations and often astute dialogue . . . [An] unpretentious, deliberate and well-observed collection.”―Irish Times
“The eight stories that make up this brief volume are a delight . . . The short story is a beautiful affirmation of the supreme importance of art in our daily lives. And Viet Thanh Nguyen drives that point home brilliantly.”―Mekong Review
“A collection of short stories that span [Nguyen’s] 20-year struggle to earn the title of ‘writer.’”―Mother Jones
“At a time when the American federal government is questioning more than ever the value of refugees’ lives, this book is not only a moving read―it’s utterly necessary.”―Literary Hub
“Viet Thanh Nguyen writes funny . . . But what also makes him such a notable writer is how he can oscillate from comedy to tragedy . . . Viet’s stories succeed.”―Electric Literature
“A remarkable work of fiction.”―Bustle (15 of 2017’s Most Anticipated Fiction Books)
“Both a timely work of fiction and an artistic retrospective of a community’s voyage over the decades.”―National Post (Buzz-worthy Books for February)
“Nguyen’s brilliant new work of fiction offers vivid and intimate portrayals of characters and explores identity, war, and loss in stories collected over a period of two decades.”―Millions (Most Anticipated Book Previews)
“A collection of stories that could not be any more relevant for the years that lie ahead. Dedicated to all refugees, everywhere, Nguyen’s absorbing prose about people forced to leave their homes and begin anew should be mandatory reading for 2017.”―AM New York (2017 Books to Read)
“A heart-rending work exploring themes of identity, culture, family, immigration, alienation, and the desire to belong . . . A captivating testament to the dreams and hardships of immigration.”―New York Journal of Books
“The Refugees could not be more timely―or timeless . . . Nguyen handles the subject matter with empathy and sociopolitical awareness. He pairs brutally authentic realism with lyric narratives to ultimately resonate with haunting truth . . . These stories are unified by their gentle poignancy and their investigations into shifting identity . . . haunting, beautiful and urgent.”―BookReporter.com
“A luminous collection . . . that takes piercingly intimate looks at the lives of refugees . . . Nguyen’s prose is consistently eloquent and thoughtful.”―8Asians.com
“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.’ . . . . Nguyen is not here to sympathize . . . but to challenge the experience of white America as the invisible norm.”―Publishers Weekly (starred, boxed review)
“A collection of fluidly modulated yet bracing stories about Vietnamese refugees in the U.S., powerful tales of rupture and loss that detonate successive shock waves . . . Each intimate, supple, and heartrending story is unique in its particulars even as all are works of piercing clarity, poignant emotional nuance, and searing insights into the trauma of war and the long chill of exile, the assault on identity and the resilience of the self, and the fragility and preciousness of memories.”―Booklist (starred review)
“For Nguyen groupies desperate for future titles (including a Sympathizer sequel), The Refugees is a highly gratifying interlude. For short fiction fans of other extraordinary, between-culture collections such as Daniyal Mueenuddin’s In Other Rooms, Other Wonders and Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth, Nguyen won’t disappoint.”―Library Journal (starred review)
“Precise without being clinical, archly humorous without being condescending, and full of understanding; many of the stories might have been written by a modern Flaubert, if that master had spent time in San Jose or Ho Chi Minh City . . . [Nguyen’s] stories, excellent from start to finish, transcend ethnic boundaries to speak to human universals.”―Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Nguyen’s penetrating gaze will mesmerize readers and open windows to the particular nuances of a population struggling to find its identity . . . While Nguyen offers philosophical battles both internal and external, he also uses language that is delivered with reverence and grace, conjuring robust imagery . . . The Refugees is simply a beautiful collection of captivating stories. Nguyen’s flair with words and his genius at succinct, compelling plots and dynamic characters creates huge worlds in few pages. This is a book to savor again and again.”―Shelf Awareness
“In these times of looking inward and shutting out, of breaking down bridges and building walls, Nguyen’s eight stark and incisive tales provide valuable, necessary insight into the pain and upheaval of exchanging a homeland for an adopted other . . . ‘Stories are just things we fabricate, nothing more,’ one character declares. But they aren’t, or at least not in Nguyen’s capable hands. His are rich, transformative tales whose truths run deep and whose characters’ plights move us.”―National (Abu Dhabi)
“Hits like a punch in the gut . . . The Sympathizer is a hard act to follow, but The Refugees’ eight stories are pared so thin of superfluity that their elegant brevity more than stands up against their brilliant . . . predecessor . . . Harrowing yet heartening . . . [A] timely collection . . . with devastating grace.”―Straits Times (Singapore)
“Powerful and timely in this day and age, helping us to understand the dreams and hardships of those who leave one country to rebuild their lives in a another one.”―City Weekend (Shanghai)
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Top customer reviews
In “War Years,” the first-person narrator retrospectively takes us back to his early teens when his parents owned a store stocked with items the refugees from Viet Nam liked. So let me give you a taste of just how wonderful—and occasionally humorous—this collection of stories is.
My parents did not grant me so much as an allowance. When I had asked for one in the
fourth grade, my father had frowned and said, “Let me think it over.” The next night he
handed me an itemized list of expenses that included my birth, feeding, education, and
clothing, the sum total being $24,376. “This doesn’t include emotional aggravation,
compound interest, or future expenses,” my father said. “Now when can you start
paying me an allowance?
I have read the author’s Pulitzer-Prize winning novel, The Sympathizer, five—yes, five—times. In fact I led a group of senior citizens—I am one too—at our Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. Everyone found the novel just amazing.
And so is this collection of short stories, all about refugees as the title says, not immigrants. The distinction is important in the fictional world this amazing writer has created. Refugees are desperate. We must remember this: millions of non-communists were left in Vietnam after the United States left to fend for themselves against the communists who had taken control. Yes, so many became boat people, many of whom drowned. So the cast of characters in these eight stories are among those who made it to the United States where life, although easier than in their homeland, was hard as so often is the case for people who come to this country.
Today we are being treated to a Trumpian display of fear of “the other” when, in fact, this was once a country that truly believed what Emma Lazarus wrote, “Give me your…” inscribed on the Statue of Liberty.
In one story, a late teenage boy arrives in San Francisco, sponsored by a do-gooder with lots of money, where he finds himself desperate for work and some type of good life. “Transplant” is one of my favorites: a Latino in need of a liver transplant is storing in his garage knock-offs of Versace, Chanel and Louis Vuitton pedaled by Louis Vu (which apparently is a very common Vietnamese last name). But you might say the name itself is a knock-off. But enough of that or I’ll be called a spoiler.
Some stories are told in first person, others in second. One of the first person narrators in a ghost writer who also sees ghosts (ghosts are big in Pulitzer novel.
There is a good reason for all the high star ratings: writing doesn’t get any better than that of Viet Thanh Nguyen.
“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!