Book Review | The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Viet Thanh Nguyen
ARC, 440 pages
Publication date:
February 7th 2017
Grove Press
Received from publisher in exchange for an honest review.

You may have heard of the writer, Viet Thanh Nguyen from his Pulitzer (and other prizes/awards) winning debut novel The Sympathizer. And while the synopsis of The Sympathizer didn’t truly appeal to me, I was looking forward to The Refugees as my introduction to his writing.

The Refugees is a collection of eight short stories that have previously been published before in some form. While all the stories are stand-alones they share the common themes of family, identity, love and often how the characters’ lives were either directly or indirectly affected by the Vietnam War (known as the “American” War by numerous Vietnamese people).

Though I am of Vietnamese descent, I’ve been fortunate enough to have been born into a somewhat privilege background, however reading stories concerning those who fled South Vietnam made me re-examine my parents struggles.  While I could not relate to some of their experiences there were several other elements of the stories that I could relate to. For instance, my family knew people who owned convenience stores and tailor shops and the story, The Transplant gave me chills as my father was a recipient of an anonymous organ donation. Lastly the sisters’ relationship in Fatherland is vaguely reminiscent of the relationship that I have with my sister albeit we were both born in Canada.

Of all the stories, Someone Else Besides You and Fatherland both of which are stories where the fathers play a major role are the ones that stood out to me as the most memorable ones. Though, regardless of my personal preference each of the eight stories in The Refugees are thought provoking and emotionally powerful contributions to this collection of stories that excels in its observation of human experiences.

Regardless of how this book came into my possession, the above review consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.

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