The Refugees

The Refugees (2017) by Viet Thanh Nguyen is a collection of eight short stories that are all glimpses into quotidian immigrant experiences. They focus more on the day-to-day aspect of refugee life, some of them focus on migrants that are ‘fresh off the boat’ so to speak and others look at second-generation immigrants or even an immigrant who returns back to the original country.

“Life, like the police, enjoys beating people now and again”

The only commonality between the different stories is some link to the Vietnamese immigrant experience in the US. The stories really revolve around identity, sexuality, relationships and family, with migration being only a backdrop.

“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”

None of the stories were particularly harrowing but I enjoyed them all (to different extents of course. I feel that the first, opening story was the strongest, and maybe War Years and The Americans were also favourites. However, they were all too fleeting and while his point was hinted at in each story I don’t feel like Tanh Nguyen did a good enough job at allowing us to engage with the themes. The stories were touching but not particularly memorable and they left a lot to be desired.

“We had passed our youth in a haunted country”

Black eyed women: a ghostwriter and ghost stories.

The Other Man: homosexuality.

War Years: a little boy, a donation box and a robbery.

The Transplant: counterfeit goods and identity fraud.

I’d Love You To Want Me: Alzheimer’s disease.

The Americans: an American war veteran goes to Vietnam.

Someone Else Besides You: his father’s mistress and an ex-wife.

Fatherland: daughter 1 meets daughter 2.

“We did not belong here. In a country where possessions counted for everything, we had no belongings except our stories”


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