I loved Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer and was very eager to read The Refugees, his new collection of short stories coming out in February. It did not disappoint. There are eight stories with the common theme of refugees to America and from America, most from Vietnam. In the story featuring a Latino man as the focus, he has a liver transplant from a Vietnamese donor whose family he seeks out.
Nguyen is a beautiful writer whose prose glows with passion and empathy. These stories are all deeply human. The first, “Black-Eyed Women” is a haunting ghost story, a young woman visited by her brother who died on the boat as they fled Vietnam, who swam for years to cross the Pacific to see her. I was entranced by this story, so loving, so humane, and so heartbreaking with deep pain and sorrow.
My best friend and I read “War Years” aloud to each other, enjoying the recollection of his strict parents, their hard-working ethic and strict economy that left no room for an allowance. When he asked for one, his father produced a list of lifetime expenses to date, not counting emotional aggravation. It was a lesson for him in compassion.
“I’d Love You to Want Me” is the story of an aging couple. He’s calling her by another woman’s name, someone she does not know. It is a story common to so many families, the growing incapacity and loss of memory of aging partners or parents. It is a story of commitment.
I loved The Refugees. Every story is excellent, even the weakest story, “The Transplant” is a good story that drew me in. I just thought it got lost toward the end. I did not feel much sympathy for the characters, even the poor fellow with a liver transplant.
Viet Thanh Nguyen is a magical writer. He creates a strong sense of place, you can feel the heat and sweat trickling between shoulder blades. He understands people and he feels deep compassion for them. His stories are full of heart. I loved The Sympathizer and loved The Refugees. I look forward to reading his next, his next, and the next after that.
The Refugees will be released Feb 7, 2017. I received an advance e-galley from the publisher through Edelweiss.