As I’m reading through Viet Thanh Nguyen’s collection of short stories The Refugees, story number 5 (out of 8) “I’d Love You to Want Me” blew me away so I have to write a separate post about it.
Told from the point of view of Mrs. Khahn, an older Vietnamese wife whose husband has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, she thinks back periodically about the escape from Saigon she made with him and her six children.
As she deals with the effects of her husband’s disease, such as when he refers to her by a different name, the events that her family survived decades before are still as fresh and new as the Alzheimer’s.
Nguyen’s ability to portray a love that goes well beyond the romantic or the emotional is stunning. It’s been a long time since I’ve encountered a character this strong. Mrs. Khanh’s husband is a reader, sometimes to her dismay and frustration, which makes the following passage both heart-breaking and uplifting:
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.
The other stories I’ve read from this collection are also very good and I’ll post about them soon.