The Refugees reviewed by Tara

“For all the ghost stories she possessed, there was one story she did not want to tell, one type of company she did not want to keep.” (Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Refugees)

The Refugees is a book of short stories about Vietnamese refugees in America. The importance of the story is displayed in the first chapter which is peppered with the mother’s stories. Sometimes the story comes at the request of the child, “Tell me a story Ma. I am listening”. At other times an external event prompts the story and after the spontaneous tale, the mother lapses into pensive silence as the child quietly watches.

The stories Viet Thanh Nguyen has written are not the stories people would write home about, but the stories that people would rather not tell. The stories that they wish they could forget. The stories that haunt their memories. The unspoken stories that cry loudly to be told. These stories broaden the reader’s understanding of the experiences of refugees.

Each tale centres around a different Vietnamese refugee who has relocated to America. Every story is unique and surprising as the different layers of each character is revealed. The stories divulge suffering, loss, changes, resilience and hope. After each tale, there is a thoughtful silence as the reader reflects on what was lost and what the future holds. This is a sobering and insightful book.

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