Review: The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen

“A short story, she thought, would be just long enough.”

After seeing the author’s name almost daily on my copy of The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui – which he blurbed  – I finally decided to give his writing a go with this collection of short stories.

From a young Vietnamese refugee who suffers profound culture shock when he comes to live with two gay men in San Francisco, to a woman whose husband is suffering from dementia and starts to confuse her for a former lover, to a girl living in Ho Chi Minh City whose older half-sister comes back from America having seemingly accomplished everything she never will, the stories are a captivating testament to the dreams and hardships of immigration.

I went into this not knowing what to expect, but the first tale hooked me from the start.  “Black-Eyed Women” is set around a ghostwriter telling ghost stories after seeing the ghost of her late brother. The otherworldliness of this short story was  exactly what I’d been looking for.

“Now you know,” my mother said. “Never turn your back on a ghost.”

It was such a phenomenal introduction with exceptional writing that really set the tone for the following tales to follow. And I especially loved it because I read “Black-Eyed Women” at nighttime, so I felt right there with the narrator’s dark and gloomy descriptions.

However, the tales, folklore, and rumors that followed afterwards didn’t really live up to that peculiar first one. The other character driven stories paled in comparison for me, particularly because a lot of them were set around cheaters and liars.

But I’m more than intrigued to give Viet Thanh Nguyen’s writing another shot in his novel, The Sympathizer.

3.5/5 stars 

Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying The Refugees, just click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!

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