What are you reading, book-lovers? This month, we’ve started more books we finished, but those we did finish include: The Refugees, a short story collection by Viet Thanh Nguyen; Ada Limón’s most recent poetry collection, The Carrying; and South and West, a slim nonfiction volume by Joan Didion that muses on moments decades past, in (as the title suggests) the American South and in California. A varied bunch!
Incisive, profound, and vivid, Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Refugees is only his second book―The Sympathizer, his debut novel, won the Pulitzer Prize in 2016―and the stories contained therein are universal. Nguyen’s collection lifts the voices of an oft-maligned group of immigrants: those who leave one homeland to make a life in another not because they want to, but because there is no other choice.
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 with 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 migration.
In many ways, simply telling these unique, varied, complex stories is a radical act, furthering representation in literature, and also inviting readers in to experiences like those in which these characters find themselves. Each story is a gem―hard, glittering, sharply observed. Nguyen’s writing is also informed by his own experience as a refugee.