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Non 1001 Book Review: The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen


Book Worm is back with another review from our backlog. The Refugees was one of the books our March Madness reading challenge bracket. Keep reading to see what she thought of the book.

The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Published in: 2017
Reviewed by: Book Worm  and/or Jen
Rating: ★★★★
Find it here: The Refugees

This ARC was provided by Grove Atlantic (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis from Goodreads: 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.

Book Worm’s Thoughts: Despite nominating this for our March Madness challenge earlier in the year, it has taken me this long to get round to actually reading it because life got in the way. This book would have been a relevant read back in March will likely continue to be a relevant book. I can’t see a point in time when this book will seem historical and not relevant. Given the situations around the world at the moment, this book provides a timely reflection that refugees are not evil or dangerous but rather are created by situations that are evil and dangerous.

This is a rare book in that it is a collection of short stories that I actually like. I normally dislike reading short stories because I feel like I don’t get enough time to build a relationship with the characters. This book is different. I really felt connected with the people in the stories and when each story came to an end I felt I had enough information to feel satisfied with not knowing anymore.

The central theme of the novel is (unsurprisingly) refugees, specifically refugees from Vietnam. I must confess I know very little about the situation in Vietnam historically or presently, however that is something I intend to remedy. While it is made clear that the refugees have left their native Vietnam under fear for their lives, the stories never dwell on the bad side of life. The atrocities faced are in the background (always present but not dwelt upon) and instead the stories concentrate on how people forge a new life for themselves and their families in a new country with a completely new culture.

The characters don’t demand the reader’s sympathy and the matter of fact way their stories are told demand our respect.

Who would like this? I would recommend this to everyone because it is through books that we learn more about the world around us and reading leads to understanding –which in this day and age can only be a good thing.

Want to try it for yourself? You can find a copy here: The refugees

We want to hear from you! Have you read this book? What did you think? 

One Comment Post a comment
  1. I don’t dislike short stories, but I do always prefer novels, so I was a little disappointed too when I first started the book. I ended up feeling the same way you did, and was glad because most of those characters couldn’t have fit in the same novel together. I loved The Sympathizer, so Viet Thanh Nguyen is quickly becoming an automatic-read author for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    December 4, 2017

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