The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Phuong had seen the film on a pirated videotape, and was seduced immediately by the glamour, beauty, and sadness of Scarlett O’Hara, heroine and embodiment of a doomed South. Was it too much to suppose that the ruined Confederacy, with its tragic sense of itself, bore more than a passing similarity to her father’s southern Republic and its resentful remnants?

-from the story “Fatherland”

Refugees

Here are my thoughts on the stories included in Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Refugees:

Black-Eyed Women: In my post for Nguyen’s novel The SympathizerI didn’t mention that he uses ghosts as not only a little comic relief but to great literary effect. In this story, he does it again. Maybe not for the comedy but, again, for great literary effect and story-telling.

The Other Man: Two gay men sponsor a Vietnamese refugee sometime around the late 1970’s. They all have some adjustments to make.

War Years: A story demonstrating that a totalitarian mindset can begin anywhere – even in a group of Vietnam refugees making their way in the United States.

The Transplant: A Hispanic man attempts to locate the family of the Vietnamese man who gave him his liver. It takes him places he wasn’t intending.

I’d Love You to Want Me: I already posted about this one here. My favorite one of the group!

The Americans: Unless I missed it, this is the one story that does not include Vietnamese refugees; however, refugees can take other forms in America.

Someone Else Besides You: A tough father and son story might make this my second favorite story here.

Fatherland:  This one tells the story of the wartime affect on the next generation of a refugee family. Not everyone is able to pull themselves up by their boot straps.

 

Viet Thanh Nguyen: I’d Love You to Want Me

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.

Refugees

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.