Author: Viet Thanh Nyugen
Genres: Fiction, Short Stories, Historical Fiction
Read: April 2017
I have a lot of mixed feelings about this collection of short stories. It didn’t deliver what I was expecting and at times I found it slow moving and pretty boring. However, it did offer a different perspective on the experiences of refugees, that while different from my expectations, was still valuable.
The Refugees featured in Nguyen’s stories were all from Vietnam and had all eventually settled in America. I expected this collection to focus on refugees who were attempting to flee their homeland or trying to build new lives in America. However, most of the stories took place years after the refugees had settled in America and in some ways didn’t even feel like stories about refugees.
I thought that Nguyen’s stories about a wife whose husband is suffering Alzheimer’s, a man who meets his liver donor, and a father who travels to Vietnam to visit his daughter studying abroad weren’t stories that were unique to refugees – they easily could have happened to anyone. During a time when many Americans (and Canadians) are afraid of refugees, I thought Nguyen’s stories were an important reminder that refugees are normal people who build lives, put down roots, and contribute to society in the same way as everyone else. Unfortunately, they are just people who have been forced to flee their home country, often due to horrifying circumstances.
While I didn’t love all the stories, there were some that I enjoyed. I sympathized with Mrs. Khanh, whose husband was slowly forgetting their past together and her horror when he begins to call her by an unknown woman’s name. I felt Phuong’s frustration when her privileged half-sister returned to Vietnam and won her father’s affection but refused to help her create a better life. And I understood the mother who was conflicted at giving her hard earned money to what she believed to be a lost cause, but couldn’t say no to another mother mourning her husband and son.
Overall this was still a decent read, but I would recommend The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui over this one, which I loved! It’s also a refugee story about a family fleeing Vietnam for America, but I felt much more connected to the characters.