The Refugees was our March/April selection at SN Book Club. Viet Thanh Nguyen is a Pulitzer Prize Winner (of The Sympathizer) and we were only too eager to read this title by him!
Below we share the synopsis, break down what we enjoyed, what was a miss (if applicable), our favorite quotes, our rating, and finally, to whom we would recommend the book.
Our rating system:
|✰✰✰✰✰||Loved and Impactful!|
|✰||Didn’t Care For It!|
Since we read all our books with our readers (not before them), sometimes we discover books that are a hit and, every now and again, a miss.
We hope you enjoy reading with us each month!
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.
What We Enjoyed:
A series of essays/short stories about refugees, some immigrated when they were children, some in teens, and some in adult. The complexities, vulnerabilities, and diversity in the stories were so touching and often heartbreaking. Beautifully written!
As immigrants ourselves, there were so many aspects of the different stories that resonated deeply with us. It was a reminder that even though we, as immigrants, have very unique experiences that are only our own, so much of what we experience as a community, irrespective of where we migrated from is the same.
We’ve lived on food stamps, we’ve struggled with culture shock, we’ve worked hard to overcome discrimination. No matter where we came from, we all have had some version of the same experiences.
Nguyễn transports you to the heart of each protagonist as you move through the essays, they are so poignantly written and yet there is always a gleamer of hope because isn’t that the universal language of immigrants — the idea that wherever you are headed, you are doing it with hope in your heart and mind. It is that hope that allows you to withstand the struggle, and there are MANY struggles but not give up.
“In a country where possessions counted for everything, we had no belongings except our stories.”
“His habit of forgetting was too deeply ingrained, as if he passed his life perpetually walking backward through a desert, sweeping away his footprints,”
“Are you going to be the kind of person who always pays the asking price?” my mother demanded. “Or the kind who fights to find out what something’s really worth?”
“You wouldn’t know right from wrong.” There was no trace of anger in his voice. “The only way a man knows right from wrong is when he makes a choice.”
This is a beautiful book that will open your eyes if you’re not an immigrant or the concept of one is foreign to you, and it will equally be impressionable if you or a loved one is an immigrant. There is so much to reflect on, once you’re done with the book. We’re not all the same, and yet, we are all the same.