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The Refugees

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Goodreads Choice Award
Nominee for Best Fiction (2017)
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.

209 pages, Hardcover

First published February 7, 2017

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About the author

Viet Thanh Nguyen

36 books4,559 followers
Viet Thanh Nguyen is the author of the novel The Sympathizer (Grove Press, 2015). He also authored Race and Resistance: Literature and Politics in Asian America (Oxford University Press, 2002) and co-edited Transpacific Studies: Framing an Emerging Field (University of Hawaii Press, 2014). An associate professor at the University of Southern California, he teaches in the departments of English and American Studies and Ethnicity.

He has been a fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies (2011-2012), the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard (2008-2009) and the Fine Arts Work Center (2004-2005). He has also received residencies, fellowships, and grants from the Luce Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, the Asian Cultural Council, the James Irvine Foundation, the Huntington Library, the Djerassi Resident Artists Program, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Creative Capital and the Warhol Foundation.

His short fiction has been published in Manoa, Best New American Voices 2007, A Stranger Among Us: Stories of Cross-Cultural Collision and Connection, Narrative Magazine, TriQuarterly, the Chicago Tribune, and Gulf Coast, where his story won the 2007 Fiction Prize.

His writing has been translated into Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese, and Spanish, and he has given invited lectures in China, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Germany. He is finishing an academic book titled War, Memory, Identity.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,247 reviews
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,964 reviews294k followers
January 5, 2018
I read a lot of books in 2017 about the refugee and/or immigrant experience - What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky, Exit West, Pachinko, The Leavers - and none of them felt as dry as this book. To say this is supposed to be one of the best books of last year, I was disappointed.

Nguyen tries to do with this what Arimah did with What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky, except with Vietnamese immigrants instead of Nigerian. The book contains a number of stories all relating to Vietnam and refugees in various ways, but both books focus instead on the mundane aspects of family life, grief, and sexuality with the refugee/immigrant aspect forming a backdrop.

Unlike Arimah's work, though, the characters here felt flat and lifeless to me. Where Arimah captured small telling moments between people and infused them with emotion, Nguyen merely narrates a series of events. The combination of everyday mundanities and a cold impersonal narrative made for a very boring book. I was unmoved and just eager to finish.

It's sad because I know the author is telling an important story from a fresh perspective not explored in the other books I noted about refugees and immigrants, but knowing that the author meant well does not save this from being a forgettable collection.

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Profile Image for J.L.   Sutton.
666 reviews869 followers
August 30, 2022
“His habit of forgetting was too deeply ingrained, as if he passed his life perpetually walking backward through a desert, sweeping away his footprints...”

The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen — rough crossings | Financial Times

Viet Thanh Nguyen's 8-story collection in The Refugees focuses on Vietnamese refugees in complex, interesting and sometimes surprising ways. What's clear is that the immigrant experience is as unique as each individual. As characters move between families, cultures and identities, the pull of what's left behind or forgotten shapes them as much as experiences in their new culture.

Memory thus plays a large role in the stories, no more so than in "I'd Love You to Want Me." In this story, a wife deals with her husband's dementia. Discarded memories, whether voluntarily discarded or not, become ghosts which prevent any comfortable staking out of identity, either individually, in families or in a couple who have grown old together. "Black-Eyed Woman" is another story which stands out. Our narrator is a ghost-writer for memoirs (so memory is the cornerstone of this story as well). I also thought "The Other Man" and "The Transplant" were thought-provoking. While I had my favorites, the story collection works together and is recommended!

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Fabulous to meet Viet Thanh Nguyen at the PEN/Hemingway Awards in Boston! He gave a timely keynote on the value of immigrants in this country!
Profile Image for Larry H.
2,484 reviews29.4k followers
February 18, 2017
In trying to express how I felt about Viet Thanh Nguyen's exquisite new story collection, The Refugees , I decided to turn to one of the foremost philosophers of our age, Keanu Reeves.

The issue of immigration is definitely a hot button here in the United States right now, with intense emotional fervor expressed by individuals on both sides. Luckily, Nguyen doesn't stake out a political position in his collection. Instead, these beautifully written stories look at issues that affect nearly every family, no matter the culture—grief, regret, coping with crisis, longing, loneliness, secrets, and the ties of family. At the same time, some of the stories deal with the often-difficult tug of war immigrants feel between their birth country and their new home.

Every one of Nguyen's eight stories has moments of absolute poetry and emotion. While I enjoyed all of them, some of my favorites included: "Black-Eyed Women," which told of a woman suddenly haunted by the ghost of her older brother, who saved her during the family's emigration from Vietnam; "The Other Man," about the cultural and emotional adjustment a young immigrant must make when he is sent to San Francisco, to live with a gay couple; "Fatherland," in which a young woman living in Vietnam finally meets her older half-sister, who appears to have everything anyone could ever want; "War Years," which tells of a family whose placid existence is turned upside down by a woman demanding money to fight the Communists back home in Vietnam; and probably my favorite story, "I'd Love You to Want Me," about a woman who begins calling her relationship with her husband into question when he is suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

Nguyen doesn't paint all of his characters with an idealistic brush; his characters are flawed, complex, even unsympathetic at times. Some of his characters are completely assimilated into American culture, while some don't feel (or act) as if they fit in. Nearly every story has elements of Vietnamese culture woven into their fibers, yet each story is utterly approachable, especially given their near-universal themes.

Nguyen's first novel, The Sympathizer , won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction last year, among other accolades, but interestingly enough, the subject matter of that book doesn't appeal to me. (For some reason—and one I believe is completely baseless at that—it makes me think of Adam Johnson's The Orphan Master's Son , which I never could get into.) However, I was so blown away by a few friends' reactions to this story collection, that I felt compelled to read it, and I absolutely devoured it. (P.S.: I'm not interested in getting into a debate on the Johnson book here.)

I've always said that the mark of a great short story for me is when I feel like I could read a novel featuring its characters. Every story in The Refugees felt that way to me, but none in their current form felt unfinished or incomplete, just emotionally rich and terrifically told. Seriously, Keanu was right: whoa.

See all of my reviews at http://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blo....
Profile Image for Esil.
1,118 reviews1,340 followers
December 22, 2016
After a spate of so so books, The Refugees reminded me of what makes me love a work of fiction: excellent writing, creative story telling, and complex human emotions. The Refugees is a slim book of short stories, but it really hit the mark. For the most part, the common thread between the stories is the experience of Vietnamese refugees who have moved to the US. Many stories focus on complex parent-child dynamics or dynamics within couples. Many characters have memories of the extraordinary lengths their parents went to in order to get them out of Vietnam, and most stories focus on the lives forged in the US. Despite these common themes, the stories are unique -- creating a rich range of different characters, situations and emotions. With very few words, characters feel real and complex. The stories are not uniformly bleak -- as was the case in a couple of collections I read recently -- but nuanced in their emotional range. There is no standout story -- I loved them all. The challenge in reviewing a book I love is that there's not much to say other than to use a few gushy adjectives. But, trust me, this is sincere gushing! I have not read Nguyen's Pulitzer Prize winning The Sympathizer, but clearly I need to get a copy. Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for an opportunity to read an advance copy.
Profile Image for Orsodimondo.
2,154 reviews1,694 followers
June 30, 2021

Una bimba vietnamita in un campo profughi in Malaysia nel 1980.

In un paese dove i beni di proprietà erano l’unica cosa che contasse, non avevamo niente che ci appartenesse, a parte le storie.

Il rifugiato è una categoria particolare di emigrato. Il rifugiato deve fuggire, deve lasciare la sua terra perché se resta rischia la vita.
E diventa rifugiato, non più profugo, se e quando viene accolto in un altro paese che gli conferisce lo status di rifugiato.
A quel punto sarà quasi sicuramente circondato da locali, per lo più bianchi, che lo guarderanno male e lo accuseranno di portargli via il lavoro.

Viet Thanh Nguyen da bambino.

Dedicato a tutti i rifugiati del mondo, questa bella, anche molto bella, forse magnifica raccolta di racconti, parla dei rifugiati vietnamiti in suolo USA. Parla delle Little Saigon o Namtown d’America.
E lo fa in modo altrettanto appassionante del romanzo d’esordio che vinse il premio Pulitzer, Il simpatizzante, ma anche in modo molto diverso: più semplice, più lineare, meno pirotecnico.
Conservando però quella tensione che sembra nascere dal silenzio, da un’attesa, da un non detto.

Questa volta non ci sono spie, militari, torturatori: al loro posto, ragazzini, commercianti, bibliotecarie, insegnanti, negozianti, turisti, ghostwriter. Persone comuni. Rifugiati: che se sono adulti si sforzeranno di masticare la lingua del posto che li ha accolti, abbastanza per andare avanti – se sono giovani vorranno invece impadronirsene per essere accettati e non più additati – se sono anziani rinunceranno in partenza, per difficoltà o per difesa.

Hanno alle spalle, in un modo o nell’altro, una guerra lunga trent’anni, coi suoi tre milioni di morti, almeno una carestia, che ne portò via un altro milione, l’esodo, la perdita di tutti i beni terreni, il viaggio da boat-people (pirati inclusi come nel primo racconto), i campi profughi.
Sono tutti combattuti tra ricordare e dimenticare. Tra questa terra, e questa casa, e questa vita, e l’altra, la terra la casa e la vita lasciate indietro, abbandonate, perdute. L’essersi costruiti una nuova vita negli Stati Uniti non è sufficiente a dimenticare il passato.
Hanno tutti una doppia identità. Sono esseri umani in bilico, sono anime divise in due.

Quando è venuto a Roma per la XVI edizione del Letterature Festival Internazionale Nguyen lesse un bel discorso del quale una frase in particolare mi è rimasta incollata:
Il sogno più grande della letteratura è unire persone diverse nello spazio condiviso della parola. Nella mia condizione di rifugiato, di straniero, di ragazzino solitario in America, era proprio questo che avevo sempre sognato: un modo per entrare in sintonia con gli altri.

La copertina
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,738 reviews14.1k followers
January 2, 2017
I love short stories. They seem to be incredibly difficult to write, to put everything in just a few pages and connect to the reader as well. Done well, I find them incredible and that was one of the first things I noticed when I started reading this collection, the writing is fantastic. Excellent writing itself makes me want to trust the writer, puts me at ease, surely he knows what he is doing, he writes so well? Then the content, the situations presented have to draw one in, present a complete picture, make me want to continue reading. These did that too, and brilliantly.

The stories in this collection have a common theme, as the title suggests they are refugees from Vietnam whom have made their way to the United States. They are all very good but two in particular I keep thinking about. One is War Room, a young boy, twelve years old is our narrator, his parents now own a grocery store and he must work there every day after school. He tells the story of a woman coming to the store to collect money to send to those fighting the Communists in Viet Nam, how his mother reacts and how and why her viewpoint changes as the story progresses.

The second is I want you to want me, about a family with young children who escaped from Vietnam and have had a fairly successful life. The woman is our narrator, she works at her local library, a job she loves, go figure, but her husband is slowly sinking into Alzheimer disease and she is his main caretaker. What propels this story is that he begins to call her a different name, a name she has never heard of before, and the women begins to believe he had a life she knew nothing about. Taut and perceptive, this story is one that impressed itself in my mind. Don't quite know why.

I have never read the much awarded novel, The Sympathizer, by this author, but will now make it a point to do so. The last book I finished in 2016 and it was a very good one.

ARC from publisher.
Publishes February 7th.
Profile Image for Angela M .
1,286 reviews2,204 followers
January 11, 2017

I haven't read this author's Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Sympathizer, so I was glad to have the opportunity to read this short volume of stories to get a feel for his writing and now I will for sure read it. The author immediately with captivating writing invites you to meet not just the characters in the present, but we learn about their pasts as well . We meet the ghosts, their families, the culture, the country of of their birth - Vietnam , and inevitably the undercurrent of the war's impact on their lives . The stories are not connected by common characters but yet these stories are connected by the common experience of the characters who survived the war in Vietnam and have found their way to America . However, that is not the focus of every story . It is not just about being in America as refugees, but about universal themes of finding one's identity, coming to terms with the past, facing dementia, family dynamics.

I was really taken by the writing of these eight distinct stories. I enjoyed all of them but my favorites were "Black-eyed Women", about a ghostwriter remembering her traumatic past as she meets the ghost of her brother, who died trying to protect her as the family was making an escape from Vietnam on a small boat and " I'd Love You to Want Me", a touchingly beautiful and sad story about loss of memory and the rediscovery of love. "The Americans" brought back to mind a time I remember with the divergent views of a father, a pilot in the Vietnam war and his daughter- reflecting the differences that we felt in this country about the war and about the returning soldiers. But yet this was also about relationships and familial love .

I don't mean to be facetious, but one of the main reasons I don't connect very well with short stories is that they are just too short . Not long enough to know the characters, sometimes not long enough to get the story, what the author is trying to say . This was not the case here . I highly recommended this well written collection of stories that I found to be moving and impactful and full of the human experience.

I received an advanced copy of this book from Grove Press through both Edelweiss and NetGalley .
Profile Image for Debbie.
441 reviews2,794 followers
November 17, 2017
Poster-child short stories!

4.8 stars

You’ll hear lots of reviewers gushing about this collection of stories. Believe them. In fact, I won’t start slinging around glowing adjectives myself because there’s a traffic jam—there are so many ohs and ahs on the road, I don’t need to add to the verbal carbon imprint. Why bore you with the same old story? Once you’ve heard this book gem is shiny bright, you don’t need to hear everyone in the world repeat glowing words about its glowing existence. Let me just say that this is a beautiful collection of stories about Vietnamese refugees who’ve ended up in America.

Even though the gems are shiny, they aren’t flashy. Nguyen doesn’t describe the characters’ often harrowing trips to a new land, though the journeys are alluded to and make the characters and their dilemmas much more complex and heartfelt. Instead, Nguyen’s stories are about what their lives are like once they get to America. His characters are not heroes or victims, but ordinary people who are just trying to get by and who face relationship problems that are familiar to us all: situations that make us sad or confused or jealous, and situations that can change the way we think, that humble us or steal our innocence.

I’m in awe of how unique the stories are—and there’s a lot of variety. The book starts out with a ghost story, which made me gulp, since I usually don’t like ghosts (I prefer live people, sorry). I needn’t have worried, though—it’s a literary ghost story (it’s literary because it has depth and no silliness), and it’s poignant and memorable. One of my favorites is a story about a remarried man who gave his second set of kids the same names as the first. Where did Nguyen come up with that??!! The twin-named daughters (one lives in the United States and one lives in Vietnam) meet for the first time, and there is posturing and jealousy.

My very favorite story is about an elderly couple dealing with the husband’s Alzheimer’s. The man continues to call his wife by another name, and the wife wonders if her husband has had a secret affair in his past. Super well done. I noticed that I could relate to the stories about women more than the stories about men, and it made me wonder if that’s usually the case. It’s to Nguyen’s credit that he can portray women characters so brilliantly.

The stories are understated, and they’re tight, sturdy, and nuanced. What is especially cool is that each story has the richness and depth of a novel. It’s amazing that Nguyen could create such complex characters, people whom I cared about deeply, within the confines of a short story. I didn’t highlight much—the stories didn’t take any philosophical detours, but instead kept on track with the plot, which made them stronger I think. The characters weren’t really introspective, and that, too, made the collection stronger: no side trips inside heads. I learned a little about the Vietnam War, and I liked being enlightened. The fact that it wasn’t preachy helped.

None of the stories ended in huge drama. The endings were super realistic but a little frustrating at times, because sometimes they seemed to fizzle out and I wanted more closure. I do have to admit that there really is some closure, just quiet closure, not fireworks, and that the endings are true to the story. Real-life stories don’t often end with a bang either.

Oh, and did I ever have another ebook adventure! There’s a story about a man who has had a transplant and who lets his donor’s son store black market goods in his garage (see what I mean about weird stories?!). Transplant man has a wife who is annoyed by him. At the end of the story, in the middle of the page, the wife folds her arms over her chest. Then in a super large and bold font, all caps, hand-written, the last lines read:


I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why Nguyen would end the story that way. It made no sense; it wasn’t in line with the story at all. Was it the husband or the wife who was saying or thinking that? And why on earth would this dramatic statement be made? If it was the wife, the loud comment was totally out of character. It’s not Nguyen’s style at all! Or was the bizarre ending super clever and I was missing something big? I reread the story, hoping to make sense of it. I was disappointed in Nguyen for being so cryptic and for not having a tidy story.

I went to write down comments about the story, noting, of course, how the ending was disappointing and made no sense. Then I went to the Table of Contents in my Kindle and began to write down the next story title. (Most of the stories did not have a title, just a bold first letter indicating a new story was beginning, so I had to find out story titles by looking at the TOC.) Guess what? The next story was called I’D LOVE YOU TO WANT ME! Ah, so those words had actually been the title of the next story, not the last two lines of the previous one. Holy moly, no wonder it hadn’t made sense! Ah, the problem with advance copies! It makes me laugh now—I love it when language or format plays a trick on me, especially if a mystery is solved in the process, and story sense is restored.

Okay, away from my crazy reading experience and back to the stories: Given the subject matter, I worried going into this collection that the stories would be message-y or victim-y, but that was definitely not the case here. If you love short stories, this poster-child collection won’t disappoint. If you’re iffy about short stories, these gems are liable to shine bright and make a believer out of you—they’re that good. It’s no wonder Nguyen won a Pulitzer for his novel The Sympathizer. I’ll be checking that one out soon!

(Okay, okay, so I lied: I did join the traffic jam full of gush, as is clear by how long this review is! Verbal imprints be damned! Is it my fault I can’t shut up?)

Thanks to NetGalley for the advance copy.
Profile Image for Candi.
614 reviews4,644 followers
September 7, 2019
"I am a refugee, an American, and a human being, which is important to proclaim, as there are many who think these identities cannot be reconciled." – Viet Thanh Nguyen

The above quote comes from an essay included at the end of this collection of eight short stories by the author of The Sympathizer, the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. I haven’t read his full length novel yet, but have intended to ever since I first saw it appear on my Goodreads news feed. I am even more inclined to do so now, after sampling the fine writing in these shorts.

That particular quote exemplifies what I found to be the connecting thread between all eight stories. None of them are linked together by any single character crossing over from one to the next, but rather by their very human experiences. Each may be a story about a Vietnam refugee, but their trials in life (other than the very specific ones involving escape to America) are those that are familiar to any one of us. Family dynamics rank high on the list – in particular between parents and their children, between spouses, between siblings, and between lovers. Not one story focuses on the actual war within Vietnam or the flights to freedom. Sure, there are some flashbacks, and some are haunted by the ‘ghosts’ of their pasts. Memories seep into the daily lives and shape the behavior and later events of one’s life. Sometimes the memories become harder to grasp, becoming more of a feeling of something as in a dream or a nightmare. Other times, we cannot seem to flee from the most difficult of memories we would prefer to suppress.

"Even his own years were elusive, time ruthlessly thinning out the once-dense herd of his memories."

"I had long struggled to forget him, but just by turning a corner in the world or in my mind I could run into him, my best friend."

No flashy writing is on show here, but each sentence is carefully crafted to deliver a seemingly understated but powerful impact. I felt the melancholy, the loneliness and the bits of hope shared by these characters. I wouldn’t say that I perceived a distinct connection to any one individual in particular, but rather I sensed quite keenly how the experiences in general were so relatable. That which ties us together as human beings is not wholly based on where we came from or where we ended up (naturally, this does play a role,) but rather how the ‘journey’ itself shapes us and gives us our identity. I’m not sure I’m doing more than a mediocre job of conveying my thoughts here – I think if you put yourself in the care of Nguyen’s penetrating writing you will begin to see what I am trying to get across!

I’m giving this collection a rating of 4 stars, although the writing itself certainly deserves all the stars. After having finished the collection, I needed to refer back to my notes in order to recall some of the stories. This basically tells me that some were more memorable than others, even if the prose throughout was first-class. I’m really quite eager to pick up The Sympathizer now and see if a full-length novel will score that extra star!

"Stories are just things we fabricate, nothing more. We search for them in a world besides our own, then leave them here to be found, garments shed by ghosts."
Profile Image for Cheri.
1,743 reviews2,273 followers
February 10, 2017

Following up his 2015 novel, The Sympathizer which won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Viet Thanh Nguyen has gathered together a collection of his short stories for The Refugees.

Nguyen quotes from two sources in his Preface, Roberto Bolano’s introduction to Antwerp

"I wrote this book for the ghosts, who, because they're outside of time, are the only ones with time."

And a small piece of James Fenton’s poem A German Requiem

”It is not your memories which haunt you. It is not what you have written down. It is what you have forgotten, what you must forget. What you must go on forgetting all your life.

These two quotes really do set the tone and atmosphere for these eight stories. Each of these stories is unique from the others, but there is a awareness of the common thread running through them all. The shared experience of these Vietnamese refugees who left their homeland to move to an environment promising a new beginning with a new life. A promise of a better life. The ghosts left behind, but who never really leave. The memories. The struggles to feel accepted and part of this new life. Cultural differences. Language differences.

While I enjoyed all of these, the first story Black-Eye Woman was my favourite with the following two The Other Man and War Years were close behind. All are worth reading – these eight stories cover a wide range of experiences and emotions, each story presents a unique situation and a unique refugee experience.

Incredibly moving.


Pub Date 7 February 2017

Many thanks for the ARC provided by Grove Atlantic
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews35 followers
October 2, 2016
Viet Thanh Nguyen, 2016 Pulitzer Prize winner of "The Sympathizer",
has written a collection of short stories -- 8 total in "The Refugees".
Viet says:
"I wrote this book for ghosts, who, because they're outside of time, are the only ones with time". This quote makes more sense the deeper you dive into each story. Viet is not talking 'voodoo'.... or scary ghosts. He knows about immigration first hand. He was born in Viet Nam, then came to the United States as a refugee in 1975 with his family.
These stories are about family - love- and identity--- the challenges-struggles- awareness - disillusionments joys and reality of immigration. Viet is a young man I admire tremendously. From the first time I read "The Sympathizer".... and now with these more personal stories -- it's clear one of his 'strengths' is being able to deeply express the experience of what it's like being Vietnamese/American.

In the first story: "Black-Eye Women" --we see how valuable stories are. Stories
are treasures in all families- but when living in two worlds - two countries- the impact is even stronger. Page turning story about a - resigned -ghostwriter and a mother. Their common bond: stories - passion for words - one writes - the other talks and gossips. This first story 'directly' made me think - with warm smiles- of Viet himself --it seems to be no accident he has a gift and passion for writing. This is a wonderful heartfelt story.
"My American adolescent was filled with tales of woe --all of them proof of what my mother said, that we did not belong here. In a country where possessions counted for everything, we had no belongings except our stories".

The next story..."The Other Man", is one of my favorites. A young Vietnamese man named Liem, 18 years old, comes to San Francisco for the first time to live. He had fled Saigon months at the end of the war.
*CULTURE SHOCK*! He's greeted at the airport by Parrish Coyne, a middle aged man with a gray ponytail who is holding a placard with 'mr.liem' printed on it.
Parish introduces Liem to his good friend Marcus Chan...who is in his mid 20's.
Parrish is originally from England - Marcus is from Hong Kong.
When Parrish first told Liem that he and Marcus were a couple "in the romantic sense"....I laughed when Liem thought it must be one of those 'idiomatic expressions' Americans often use.... like "he drives me up the wall"...or "you're killing me". ....
Well..... Liam was in for a 'rude awakening '....
AND....this story keeps getting better and better! Fooled me....Liem doesn't only get a job working at a liquor store in the tenderloin district in SF...
no... a few other things happen! Fun story! Welcome to San Francisco.

"War Years" takes place in 'my city'... San Jose. I know just where it was located too ---( an area which has a history and story to San Jose itself)--
The year is 1983....the family owns a Vietnamese grocery store. They live on top of it.
The narrator is 13 years old. He worked in the store after school pricing cans and packages. A woman named Mrs. Hoa introduced herself to his mother in the store. She was collecting funds for the fight against Communist. Mother was not about to give a dime of her hard earned money....she was struggling to make ends meet ---
This story takes several twists and turns --- and your emotions will rise and fall - shift - and shift again.

The other stories are thought provoking also....transporting continents, and cultures----from needing liver transplant -- a mother working in a nail salon, concerns of money, health, education, and politics. Each of these stories touch our emotions, such as taping into humiliation, pride, and the fulfillment that memories are.

Thank You Grove Atlantic, Netgalley, and Viet Thanh Nguyen

Profile Image for Jen CAN.
487 reviews1,366 followers
April 4, 2017
My first foray into the short story land and it was quite captivating right from the start when the writer meets his ghost brother.
This is a story of refugees. Their ghosts who have been kept alive until their stories have been told. Their struggles coming to America and the challenges they faced; as well as their return trips back to the homeland where memories and reality are no longer congruent.
The series of vignettes are profound. The writing, descriptively vivid. 4****. Missed the 5er because I need to connect with characters and these short stories still left me with a longing of wanting more.
Profile Image for Sam.
142 reviews322 followers
October 29, 2020
Viet Thanh Nguyen's short story collection The Refugees is very strong, smart, and affecting, centered on the Vietnamese experience but shifting between characters and perspectives to interact with the nation's history, people, and culture in fresh and surprising ways: a Vietnamese man reeling from his divorce and attempting to close a gap with his distant, disapproving father; a former American military man visiting his daughter in the country he fought in; a girl in her family living in modern Ho Chi Minh City, she and her siblings named after her fathers first family that fled as refugees. Nguyen does an excellent job of varying style, tone, and composition for each story, so each has a unique perspective to offer and never feels redundant to what's come before. The (slight downside) is that it doesn't always feel like a collection birthed as whole, but rather separate parts coming together in one volume. And indeed, in the copyright page, one can see that various versions of these stories appeared in journals and magazines over the course of a few years. Of the 8 stories included, I thought 4 were fabulous, 2 very well done on the whole, and 2 a bit weaker and perhaps a bit out of place in terms of caliber of storytelling and collective relevance. It's that tangible lack of a collective intent or thrust that pegged this read at 4 stars as opposed to 5 at first, and short story collections can be trickier to review. But ultimately I really enjoyed the vast majority of Nguyen's The Refugees and admired the prose and was entertained and informed, even if it didn't quite come together cohesively enough for it to be spectacular for me, it was more than solid and it left a lasting impression on me, so I rounded up to 5 stars. And while I did not enjoy Nguyen's The Sympathizer on my first attempt reading it, my response to his writing here makes me want to give that Pulitzer Prize winner another shot.

Standout stories: "Black Eyed Woman", "The War Years", "I'd Love You to Want Me", "Fatherland"

-received an ARC via netgalley in exchange for an honest review, thanks to Grove Atlantic
Profile Image for Karen.
574 reviews1,120 followers
February 7, 2017
I really enjoyed this book of short stories about Vietnamese refugees and their lives here in America, and some parts taking place in Vietnam.

This was both dark, and sometimes funny, and all of them about love and family.

My favorite was "I'd love you to want me", but they were all very good.

Thank you to NetGalley, Grove Atlantic, and Viet Thanh Nguyen for the ARC.
Profile Image for Trish.
1,352 reviews2,416 followers
February 7, 2017
This is such an exciting time in American literature that we can enjoy the gorgeous language and careful craftsmanship of really very fine short stories and novels in English in the American tradition but from traditionally silent participants in our nation’s pageant: immigrants and people of color. These voices began speaking up some time ago, but if you looked at the award lists until recently, people of color weren’t often on them. That has changed, and right now, before cultures become indistinguishable from one another in the wealth churn, the special character and individual voice of different groups is our bounty to reap.

Nguyen just wows me with his capture of the immigrant experience from so many different directions in this collection of stories. Not only is his language clear and expressive and to the point, his stories are rounded and fulfilling. They tell us something, like dispatches from a new world.

A section called “The War Years” has a story that is not actually about the war we usually think of. We’re in L.A., in Little Saigon, in a grocery store where we breathe in the smell of dried cuttlefish and star anise in the crowded aisles. Father (Ba), mother (Ma), and Long (do I need to say?), a thirteen-year-old for whom school, even summer school, felt like a vacation, worked there every day, even Sundays after Mass.

Ma is the real deal: waking everyone up in the mornings, keeping house, making meals, counting cash. She owns seven pastel outfits, and with makeup and a squirt of scent (gardenia), she is ready to man the cash register. We hear the scratch of her nylons as she rubs one ankle against the other. She knows the margins on every item in the store, even the 50-lb bags of rice in the loft above kitchenware.

Mrs. Hao visits the store regularly to ask for contributions to “fight the Communists,” but Ma thinks that fight is over. She follows Mrs. Hao home one day to confront her and discovers a fight that is all too real.

The story is so richly told, its depths just keep churning up new insights. And yet it is not alone. “The Transplant” introduces us to Arthur Arellano, a man with several overlapping and reflexive problems—problems which influence each other. Despite “transplant” bringing to mind “immigrant,” in this story the word has a more literal meaning.

The characters in all these stories have complex problems, complex attachments, complex lives. In “Someone Else Besides You,” a thirty-three-year-old man lives with his father after his own divorce, but his widower father, despite his own proclivities for mistresses, is constantly urging his son to pursue the former wife. See what I mean? Complex.

One story, “The Americans,” depicts a twenty-six year-old woman who has been teaching English in Vietnam for two years already, living in a town that also hosts a nonprofit engaged in demining. She invites her parents to visit, to meet her boyfriend, to see her housing, her life. The email inviting them is addressed to Mom and Dad, but James Carver, recently retired as a commercial airline pilot, knows it is mostly meant for her mother, who dreams about Vietnam's “bucolic” countryside. “He knew next to nothing about Vietnam except what it looked like at forty thousand feet.”

Nguyen conveys the silent, withheld anger and confusion that men can often exhibit: an inarticulateness that keeps them angry without them even knowing exactly why. James was so proud when his son graduated from Air Force Academy, but he marks his own decline from that moment: he felt he was growing stupider rather than wiser as he aged. That was just the moment that the torch passed, and it is a new world, not his own. If he could speak his fears, he’d find he was not alone: the world could still be his, he’d just be sharing it.

His daughter Claire is just like daughters anywhere, thinking they know more than they do, speaking and acting so carelessly, so casually hurtful.
“Although she empathized with vast masses of people she had never met, total strangers who regarded her as a stranger and would kill her without hesitation given the chance, she did not extend any such feeling to him.”
Being a parent is tough stuff. One has to have the hide of a rhinoceros.

The technical skill manifest in this story is breathtaking. We are never explicitly told the man is black, married to a Japanese woman while stationed on Okinawa. Their children have grown up loved by their parents, but confused about their identities and disparaged by their schoolmates. James has endured a lifetime of confusion, including his job flying a bomber jet. Unspoken, unresolved resentment is the minefield.

Nguyen’s stories are feasts of insight, generously shared. We’re lucky folk, to have such a talent writing for us. The Sympathizer, Nguyen’s Pulitzer-winning novel out last year, was a big novel in every sense. He shows us here he can write engaging, enduring short fiction, and his nonfiction, Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War, has likewise garnered critical attention. Nguyen is the Aerol Arnold Chair of English and Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California. He has received residencies, fellowships, honors, awards, and grants from a wide range of admiring and grateful organizations.
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,462 reviews8,570 followers
April 20, 2020
I’m making a concentrated effort to read Vietnamese writers because I’m Vietnamese and want to get in touch with that part of my identity, so that in large part is what motivated me to pick up The Refugees. Overall, the collection did not disappoint. The stories, while definitely focused on the lives of Vietnamese refugees, mostly living in California, also revolved around common life experiences: falling in and out of love, disappointing your parents, the period of life when your child takes care of you in your old age instead of the other way around, and more. Themes of displacement and the aftereffects of war are present in this collection, yet in some ways stay more in the background compared to the flawed, human relationships at the center of each story.

That said, I’m giving the collection three stars because unfortunately I found it hard to connect to these characters on an emotional level. As much as I could appreciate Viet Thanh Nguyen’s writing and themes on an intellectual level, the characters fell a bit flat for me. I read a paperback copy of the collection with two of his nonfiction essays at the end, both of which I loved (“On Being a Refugee, an American – and a Human Being” and “In Praise of Doubt and Uselessness”), so I still intend to read The Sympathizer and hope I enjoy it more than I did The Refugees. If ya’ll have any recs on Vietnamese authors to read, please let me know!
Profile Image for Bianca.
1,048 reviews903 followers
February 6, 2017
Confession: my knowledge of the Vietnam war is somewhat muddy and confused, most of it sourced from American movies, and a few Australian ones, and we all know how one sided they are.

The Refugees is a collection of eight short stories made cohesive by the fact the protagonists in all of them are Vietnamese refugees and their immediate families.

The stories are diverse and extremely powerful. The writing is simple, but not simplistic. It's economical, without fancy language flourishes, yet it packs a punch. The characters are complex, their stories, more often than not, heartbreaking.

There are so many layers, so many unexpected situations, and circumstances. There is a lot to take away from each story.

I can't rave enough about this book. It's exquisite, poignant and compelling. And so current.

I need to get my hands on The Sympathizer , because I'm so impressed with Thanh Nguyen's writing, I need to read his Pulitzer-winning novel.

A must read!

I've received this book via Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to the publishers, Grove Atlantic, for the opportunity to read and review this terrific short stories collection.
Profile Image for Iris P.
171 reviews205 followers
February 26, 2017
The Refugees

 photo 1nguyen_zpsvagqvlqd.jpg Viet Thanh Nguyen - The Author

★★★★ 4 Stars

I received a free advance e-copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review, thank you!

"You have to understand, no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land."
From the poem "Home" by Somali-British poet Warsan Shire

Reading this highly gratifying collection of stories felt incredibly auspicious, although not necessarily in a good way. At a moment when the level of people seeking asylum worldwide is at an all time high, author Viet Thanh Nguyen sheds light into what moves people to abandon everything they know, put their lives at risk by braving treacherous journeys and face the stigma of becoming stateless immigrants.

Although written from very diverse points of view, the eight stories included in The Refugees revolve around people who fled Vietnam during and immediately after the Vietnam war, and who eventually settled down in several communities of expats in California.

Nguyen's writing is both stirring and powerful but he's careful not to come across as too heavy-handed or overly dramatic. In fact, I appreciate the subtlety he uses to describe the sense of loss and disorientation that never completely abandons those who are forced to leave behind their home countries.

I thought the quality of the collection was pretty consistent, but there was one story that particularly resonated with me. In “I’d Love You to Want Me", an aging couple faces the devastating effects of dementia. The husband has recently started calling his wife by another woman’s name, a name the wife doesn't recognize. The pain and challenges she confronts as a result are told with a great deal of empathy and compassion.

Nguyen, who was born in Vietnam in 1975, himself came as a refugee to the United States along with his family in 1974. In an Op-Ed column published by The New York Times last year, Nguyen reflects in what he sees as the differences between how we regard (regular) immigrants and refugees:
"Immigrants, as troubling as they are to some people, are an integral part of what the American Dream is supposed to be. They're understandable to a considerable number of Americans. Refugees are different. Refugees have been displaced by war or natural disaster or political catastrophes, and they are much more threatening because they are reminders to people that all the comforts that we take for granted can be taken away in just a moment.
Immigrants are more reassuring than refugees because there is an end point to their story; however they arrive, whether they are documented or not, their desires for a new life can be absorbed into the American dream or into the European narrative of civilization. By contrast, refugees are the zombies of the world, the undead who rise from dying states to march or swim toward our borders in endless waves."

Like it happens in many diasporas, the way these characters choose to connect with the old country creates at times, a chasm among many in their communities. While some want to virtually erase the memories that haunts them, others can't seem to move away from the ghosts of their past fast enough.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as of June 2016 the number of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people around the world topped 65 million. That's 1 in every 113 people on the planet.

The Refugees is an illuminating collection of stories that beautifully examines the pain, sense of loss and stigma that follow refugees everywhere. And yes, Mr. Nguyen your timing was indeed impeccable.

Thanks to Goodreads friend Esil for recommending these fantastic stories!
Profile Image for Sr3yas.
223 reviews997 followers
June 25, 2018
I fell in love with Viet Thanh Nguyen way of storytelling with his 2016 Pulitzer winning debut novel, The Sympathizer. You bet I wanted more, and that led to Refugees, a collection of eight Viet Thanh Nguyen's short stories which he originally published between 2006 and 2011, with Vietnam's displaced citizens taking center stage in most of the stories.

❝ She wondered what, if anything, she knew about love. Not much, perhaps, but enough to know that what she would do for him now she would do again tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. She would read out loud, from the beginning. She would read with measured breath, to the very end. She would read as if every letter counted, page by page and word by word.❞

We get eight stories with a variety of themes: Identity, love, family, Saigon, patriotism, and turbulent relationships between parent and child, man and woman and even man and man fills these pages with bold strokes. The writing and prose are not as polished as Sympathizer, which is expected as these were author's earlier writings and because of the short nature of the stories.

Nevertheless, This was a not a smooth ride. Some of the stories in the first half of the book were disinteresting for me, but the stories of later half really won me over because of the way Viet Thanh Nguyen was able to construct fully realized characters and complex relationships in about two dozen pages over and over again.

Out of the eight stories, my top three are War Years, I’d Love You to Want Me, Someone Else Besides You. Each of them weaves unique relationships and builds extraordinary premise out of ordinary lives, and makes the fictional characters from these stories as real as you and me. That's talent!

Recommended for Short story enthusiasts!
Profile Image for Nat.
555 reviews3,181 followers
August 2, 2018
“A short story, she thought, would be just long enough.”

After seeing the author's name almost daily on my copy of The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui - which he blurbed - I finally decided to give his writing a go with this collection of short stories.

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.

I went into this not knowing what to expect, but the first tale hooked me from the start.  “Black-Eyed Women” is set around a ghostwriter telling ghost stories after seeing the ghost of her late brother. The otherworldliness of this short story was  exactly what I’d been looking for.

“Now you know,” my mother said. “Never turn your back on a ghost.”

It was such a phenomenal introduction with exceptional writing that really set the tone for the following tales to follow. And I especially loved it because I read “Black-Eyed Women” at nighttime, so I felt right there with the narrator's dark and gloomy descriptions.

However, the tales, folklore, and rumors that followed afterwards didn't really live up to that peculiar first one. The other character driven stories paled in comparison for me, particularly because a lot of them were set around cheaters and liars.

But I'm more than intrigued to give Viet Thanh Nguyen's writing another shot in his novel, The Sympathizer.

3.5/5 stars

Note: I'm an Amazon Affiliate. If you're interested in buying The Refugees, just click on the image below to go through my link. I'll make a small commission!

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Profile Image for Glenn Sumi.
404 reviews1,537 followers
July 30, 2018
I have yet to read Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Sympathizer, but after this solid collection of stories, I’m looking forward to it [UPDATED: I did eventually read it, and liked this story collection more! See my review here.]

With the European refugee/migrant crisis raging and the Trump administration tightening admissions of refugees to the U.S., a book with the title The Refugees couldn’t be timelier.

Nguyen himself came to the U.S. as a refugee from Vietnam in 1975, and that experience - and the author’s clear-eyed sympathy for others - suffuses these stories and gives them an authenticity.

Among the memorable characters you’ll meet are:

• a woman who extorts money from the Vietnamese-American community in San José to fight communism in Vietnam (“War Years”)
• a rather directionless ghostwriter who meets the literal ghost of the brother who died trying to protect her from pirates when they were escaping Vietnam (“Black-Eyed Woman”)
• an eighteen-year-old refugee who confronts some secrets about himself as he adapts to being sponsored by two gay men, one older and British, the other younger and Asian, in 1970s San Francisco (“The Other Man”)
• a fast-talking Vietnamese immigrant who sells counterfeit luxury items and stores them in the garage of a man who owes him, or thinks he owes him, a big favour (“The Transplant”)
• a woman who’s furious that her husband, suffering from Alzheimer’s, thinks she’s another woman (“I’d Love You To Want Me”)
• two half-sisters who have the same name and the same father but who were raised in different countries meet each other and compare their lives (“Fatherland”)

With the exception of the appearance of the ghost in the opening story, these are mostly naturalistic, realistic tales. I’ve heard that Nguyen’s novel employs some experimental techniques; there’s none of that here. (I believe the stories were written before the novel, over two decades.)

Even though many of the settings are similar – California cities and towns – there’s a surprising lack of repetition. These are snapshots of significant moments in people’s lives. I imagine those lives continuing after the final sentence – the sign of really persuasive and effective fiction.
Profile Image for Dianne.
559 reviews908 followers
September 18, 2017
Impressive collection of short stories focused on Vietnamese refugees and their experiences. Very well written and all of the stories are very different from each other, which made it even more interesting. I appreciated this collection and enjoyed reading the stories but it didn't really give me any warm fuzzies or hug at my heartstrings - not that kind of a book, at least for me.

Thanks for NetGalley and Grove Press for an ARC of this collection.
Profile Image for Marie.
143 reviews44 followers
February 16, 2017
“I wrote this book for the ghosts, who, because they are outside of time, are the only one with time.” – prologue

What a timely book! With the public debate about immigration in the forefront of everyone’s mind, with the executive and judicial branches of government battling out the legality of banning people from certain countries, the timing is perfect! America’s history has been built upon accepting refugees from various countries. Between 1975 and 1995 over 480,000 people had immigrated to the United States. Of the “boat people,” it is estimated that at least a third died. This is exquisitely written, profoundly moving compilation of short stories, each one touching on the theme of immigration from Vietnam.

Viet Thanh Nguyen says he is writing these stories for the ghosts. The first story in this book is most directly to that point. The narrator is a ghost writer, telling other people’s stories not coming to terms with her own story until the ghost of her brother comes to visit her. At that moment she confronts the trauma of her past. Her brother risked his life to try to hide her as a boy when pirates raided their boat. He was killed for it. She was gang rapider front of her parents. Her parents lamented her brother’s death, but never mentioned what had happened to her. She carried the burden of her own trauma as well as of her brother’s death. She was made to feel it was her fault. She finally realizes she died too. She is a ghost of the past and can write her own story.

The writing is incredible. The stories themselves are beautiful, emotion-laden, with excellent character development and complexity. The true nature behind the characters are revealed in unexpected ways. The tension created by the juxtaposition of vietnamese culture in affluent America (as well as the converse) are explored. These stories are not simply an exploration of Vietnamese culture and the refugee experience, but transcend that with the stories evoking so much truth about humanity that simply involve refugees as characters.

Rather than detail each short story, I highly recommend reading this brilliantly written grouping of 8 stories. It is brief book, but packs a powerful punch. These are stories that will move you and stay with you. They are simply amazing!

Thank you to netgalley for an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review!

For discussion questions, please see: http://www.book-chatter.com/?p=1081.
Profile Image for Sandra.
914 reviews249 followers
January 20, 2019
Anche con Il simpatizzante mi è capitato di restare indecisa tra quattro e cinque stelle, così anche per questo volume di racconti, il cui titolo dice già tutto. Alla fine propendo per le cinque stelle, perché lo scrittore è notevole. Devo tenerlo d’occhio assolutamente. Inoltre i racconti raccolti in questo volume, seppure non tutti perfetti, colpiscono dritti alla sensibilità e al cuore del lettore, sia per la diffusa malinconia e la sofferenza che permeano le storie, sia per i protagonisti, i rifugiati in America dal Vietnam, i loro figli o fratelli, le loro famiglie, tutti fuggiti dopo la fine della guerra del Vietnam, saliti su navi che hanno attraversato l’Oceano Pacifico e sono arrivati in California. Ma i protagonisti non sono soltanto questo, sono esseri umani che hanno sofferto e soffrono ancora, hanno vissuto orrori e morte ma sono arrivati in un inferno diverso, lottano per trovare la loro identità, per salvaguardarla, per costruirsi una vita.
“Siamo tutti identici, ai loro occhi, intuì Phuong, con un misto di rabbia e vergogna:piccoli, gentili e facili da dimenticare”.
Un “noi” e un “loro” che gridano forte alle coscienze di tutti.
Profile Image for Thomas.
730 reviews175 followers
January 21, 2021
This book is a series of eight short stories. They are stories of pain, loss and memories. These are fictional stories of Vietnamese refugees in the US and how they adjusted, or not, to life in another country. One family sees ghosts and talks about what ifs: "If we hadn't had a war," she said that night, her wistfulness drawing me closer, "we'd be like the Koreans now. Saigon would be Seoul, your father alive, you married with children, me a retired housewife, not a manicurist."

"We would come outside after the bombing, you holding my hand while we stood blinking in the sun."
"But I guess oil was to be found in every part of the world, just like anger and sorrow."

Viet Thanh Nguyen was interviewed on CSPAN talking about his books and it is available on their website, booktv.org
I rate it 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4, out of 5 stars. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for sending me this book
Profile Image for Ellie.
1,475 reviews372 followers
March 3, 2017
The Refugees is by Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of The Sympathizer, a book that won many awards. This collection is a very fine group of short stories, which are tender and moving. In the first story, a woman who is a ghost writer for other authors is haunted by her own ghost-her dead brother who has returned, lost, to seek out answers. The answers to his questions, and her pain, lie in their long-ago flight from Vietnam.

All the stories deal in some way with the characters complicated relationship to the beautiful, tragic country they have left behind (or, in the last story, they have been left behind to cope as best they can with the aftermath of the war in Vietnam. Vietnam itself is a character-scarred, beloved, feared, rejected. As I said, a complicated country whose people can neither stay nor completely leave behind.

In another story, Nguyen write of a young man who has left his family and ended up living with a gay couple in San Francisco. As he struggles to make sense of his new surroundings, he finds he also has to struggle with his identity. Caught between two worlds, even the children struggle to create their hybrid identity and come to terms with their life in this new world.

A man whose father fled Vietnam is so afraid of becoming his father that he is unable to create a new family. His father's intrusiveness into the relationship is both unbearable and touching. Even characters who have lived in the United States are haunted by their parents relationship with their country of origin.

In the last story, we are in Vietnam, seeing the world through the eyes of a young woman whose father fought (as all these characters did-hence why they are refugees) against the Communists. Her father's first wife left him to come to the United States and in the story his daughter from his first family comes to visit. His second daughter longs to leave her beautiful but impoverished, broken land and hopes to find answers in her half-sister. But as in so many of these stories, the sister is not what she seems to be and bears her own scars of flight.

Each story seemed perfect to me. They are beautifully written and so vivid I felt as though I were there with the characters only with the grace of seeing their hearts and minds and glimpsing the lives they are living as well as the lives are left.

Thank you NetGalley, Grove Atlantic, and Viet Thanh Nguyen for giving me the opportunity to read these wonderful stories in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Liz.
2,028 reviews2,541 followers
February 7, 2017

I am not a fan of short stories. About the time I get invested in the characters the story ends. And it's so hard for much to happen in such a short number of pages. Like looking at a photo instead of a video. That said, I had enjoyed The Sympathizer and jumped at a chance to get an advance copy of this book. The writing here is good and you get a real feel for time, place and person. The stories cover the various aspects of assimilation of the refugees into American life. These are not happy stories. The unhappiness of being forced out of their homeland permeates all the characters. The absence of knowledge about their adopted home weighs on them. My problem with many of the stories is that they end abruptly. You turn a page thinking anxious to know what now and there is nothing. Just the start of another story.

Of all the stories, my favorite was I Want You to Want Me. A wife taking care of a husband with Alzheimer's has to accept him beginning to call her by another woman’s name, a name she doesn't recognize at all. And he insists they've done things for which she has no memory. Here, Nguyen perfectly captures all the questions that go through her head.

I'm giving this three stars. But to be honest, I think my unwillingness to give it a higher rating comes back down to my dislike for the format. If you are a fan of short stories, I think you'll like these. But if you're not a fan of the short format, I don't think these stories will change your mind.

My thanks to netgalley and Grove Press for an advance copy of this book.

Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,612 reviews2,580 followers
August 15, 2017
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. Escape from Vietnam, sometimes by boat, is a distant memory for some of the characters. Several stories have characters visiting present-day Vietnam as tourists, or returning for the first time in decades. The first and last tales in the collection are my favorites. The opener is an eerie ghost story, while the last is a powerful example of destroying the doppelganger along with one’s unrealistic hopes for the future. However, two of the stories are less memorable than the others, and there are also a couple of sudden endings that I struggled to decipher.
Profile Image for Bam cooks the books ;-).
1,855 reviews232 followers
February 10, 2017
I was very fortunate to win a copy of Viet Thanh Nguyen's debut, Pulitzer-prize winning novel The Sympathizer last year and was quite impressed and so looked forward to reading his second book, a collection of eight short stories, with great anticipation. I was not disappointed. It takes considerable skills to fashion an interesting story with believable characters in just a few succinct pages and this author does it well.

The author dedicates his book 'For all refuges, everywhere.' And what a hot-button topic that is at the moment. But his is the Viet Nam experience of which he wrote so well in his first book.

"Black-Eyed Women" is something of a ghost story, tales repeated by ancient crones with black-eyes. "Aren't you afraid of ghosts?" "You aren't afraid of the things you believe in."

"The Other Man" In 1975, Liem, age 18, comes to San Francisco from Saigon through a resettlement agency and is taken in by a gay couple. "War wasn't just a tragedy but a farce."

"War Years" Continuing a thread begun in his earlier novel, Vietnamese business owners in America feel pressure to contribute money to raise a new army to defeat the Communists and win back their country.

"The Transplant" When a man receives a liver transplant, he tracks down the son of the donor--a man who deals in fake high-end goods.

"I Want You to Want Me" A woman whose husband is developing Alzheimers is upset when he continually calls her by another woman's name--a woman who seems to be the love of his life. My favorite story!

"The Americans" An aging couple take a trip to Vietnam to visit their daughter who is there teaching. The father is a black man who did a tour duty as a pilot during the war; the mother a Japanese woman he met while stationed in Okinawa. The daughter, being part black-part Japanese, tells her father, "I think I've found someplace where I can do some good and make up for some of the things you've done."

"Someone Else Besides You" Thomas, a thirty-three-year-old divorced man, working two jobs, takes in his elderly father. Thomas is still considered a 'boy' because he has never had children of his own. He is asked by his father's mistress to whom he's been rather snide, "Aren't there times you'd rather be someone else besides you?"

"Fatherland" A Vietnamese man has fathered two sets of children and named each set by the same names. The first set fled to America with their mother when Saigon fell and the father was sentenced to five years of imprisonment. She divorced him but once a year sends updates on how the children are doing--very successful, of course.
The father is now a guide for 'foreign tourists who only know one thing about this country...the war.'
His oldest daughter writes that she wants to come visit and her father is not surprised: 'I knew you would come back to see the one I named after you.' But can you love family you've never known?' Another excellent story!

Thank you to the author, publisher and NetGalley for the opportunity to read an arc of this new book. I am looking forward to more delightful reading from this talented author.
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