Quantcast
Home » News
Home » News

Book review: 'Refugees' is timely, timeless in telling of human stories

Published March 6, 2017 9:51 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Viet Thanh Nguyen's new book, "The Refugees," is both timely, given the current debate about refugees in America, and timeless in its exploration of universal human struggles.

This gorgeous collection of short stories recalls Jhumpa Lahiri's "Interpreter of Maladies," but with Vietnam as the loose center around which the richly drawn characters orbit. There's Liem, a newly arrived refugee whose "habit of forgetting was too deeply ingrained, as if he passed his life perpetually walking backward through a desert, sweeping away his footprints." There are longtime residents Mr. and Mrs. Khahn, distant from their American-raised children, as well as those who stayed behind, like Phuong, wistful for a different future. And there's Claire, an American transplant with no familial ties to the southeast Asian nation who explains to her incredulous father that she has a "Vietnamese soul."

Nguyen convincingly takes on the voices and lives of these myriad characters, whose stories highlight not only the unique horrors that drive people to become refugees, but also the universal experiences that affirm their humanity — from the transformation of a 13-year-old "brave enough to say what I had suspected for a while, that my mother wasn't always right" to the heartbreak and turmoil of a woman losing her husband to the fog of dementia.



Nguyen won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for his 2015 novel "The Sympathizer." The writing in "The Refugees" is resonant and evocative, abounding with delightful descriptions: "tears of rust streaking the walls," "a countertop with black veins in the grouting," "a white Toyota Land Cruiser speckled with measles of rust."

Above all, the mark of a good short story is a reader's investment in the characters within pages of meeting them — and sadness at having to let them go shortly thereafter. This reader felt that over and over in "The Refugees." It is a must-read. —

"Refugees"

Viet Thanh Nguyen

Grove Press

Pages • 224

Cost • $25

 

 

 

 

 

USER COMMENTS
Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
comments powered by Disqus