Winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for The Sympathizer, Viet Thanh Nguyen’s new short story collection – The Refugees – could not have been published at a more appropriate time with Trump pressing his executive order banning certain refugees from coming to America. This collection of short stories shines a light on the settlement of refugees and the struggle to forget the pains of emotional and physical scars of fleeing danger in your home country.
The collection itself is short with eight powerful stories ranging from a ghostwriter who is visited by the ghost of her brother who died to an African American visiting the country he bombed – Vietnam – hearing his daughter say she has the soul of a Vietnamese.
Each of the stories places remembrance as its major theme. My favourite story has to be I’d Love You to Want Me where a wife is coping with the increasing decline of her husband’s dementia where is frequently refers to his wife as another woman. Her eventual resignation to assuming the role of this other woman is heartbreakingly beautiful.
Noting Viet himself settled in a Vietnamese refugee camp in America when he was younger he clearly drew on his and his families experiences for this novel and for that, this is a fantastic #ownvoices book if you were ever looking for one.
What perhaps is most poignant in this collection is how the author refrains from victimising his protagonists and does not delve into the how, why and what of the reasons behind those seeing refuge. It is a given these people required refuge. It is a shame that those who have influence don’t have the same focus.
Favourite quotes: ‘He tried to forget what he’d discovered, how little other lives mattered to him when his own was at stake.‘
Thanks for reading – I hope you enjoyed it!