The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen [in Library Journal]
Although publishing 10 months after Viet Thanh Nguyen won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for The Sympathizer, this collection precedes his novel by decades (the earliest entry dates from 1997). In a pre-Pulitzer interview, Nguyen credits his 15-year experience “characterized by drudgery and despair, laced with a few bright moments when the stories were published or won awards” as the labor necessary to produce his stupendous Sympathizer.
These eight stories encompass migration, loss, and disconnect as characters navigate and stumble through memories, experiences, and perceived realities. Two siblings reconnect in “Black-Eyed Women” decades after their deadly boat escape from Vietnam. The children of refugees serve as both witnesses and enablers to their dislocated parents in “War Years,” “Someone Else Besides You,” and “Fatherland.” Unlikely connections haunt two of the most resonating stories: an aging man with dementia begins to call his wife by someone else’s name in “I’d Love You To Want Me,” while an organ recipient meets the donor’s family in “The Transplant.”
For Nguyen groupies desperate for future titles (including a Sympathizer sequel), Refugees is a highly gratifying interlude. For short fiction fans of other extraordinary, between-culture collections such as Daniyal Mueenuddin’s In Other Rooms, Other Wonders and Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth, Nguyen won’t disappoint.