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ARC Review - The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen
This review was originally published on Tumblr on February 18, 2017 as part of an old project of mine, the Diverse/Lady Book Project. In migrating to Substack, I’ve decided to reproduce this post here, for consistency. And because I lost a bunch of old book reviews when other bloggers deleted them from their websites. Please enjoy 2017 Amanda’s review of The Refugees.
This is another NetGalley acquisition, and I’m so happy that I found it and read it. I’ve never been a huge fan of short story collections, but this helped broaden my perspective. Because here’s the thing about short stories—as soon as you start connecting with the characters, as soon as you start to feel something for them, the story ends. And then we move on to new characters, a new plot, etc. It just took a little getting used to, after reading solely novels for years and years (basically since college). But this one was fantastic. Nguyen did a great job of getting me into each and every story, pulling me in and making me care in a very short amount of time. And even better (to me, at least) was how totally RELEVANT the stories are. Refugees are a hot topic in the world right now (and not in a great way), and this story shed new light on the situation, for me.
I’ve never had to worry about being a refugee—that’s one privilege of my life as a natural-born US citizen that I constantly take for granted. I’ve always felt empathy for refugees, because fleeing your home would be terrifying. But I don’t know what that’s like, and I likely (hopefully) never will. But reading this book opened my eyes to terrors I had never even thought of before—getting into a boat with complete strangers bound for an unknown land, just to get away. Not knowing the language of the place you live. Never feeling like you completely belong. Always feeling like a refugee, no matter how long you live in a place. Those things hurt my heart, and they’re real for way too many people. And those are the things that Nguyen captures poignantly in this short story collection.
3 Things I Loved
The refugee perspective. It’s so powerful to read a book about refugees written by a former refugee. So powerful.
The length and pacing of the stories. I know I just said that I don’t like short stories because they cut off right when I get invested, but I loved that so much about this collection. I wanted more, sure, but they were so good, and so perfectly paced.
The overall point of the book. Nguyen wanted to show the perspective of a refugee, and that came across clearly throughout the story collection. I’m not sure if he was trying to teach readers a particular lesson or if he just needed to write these stories, but I felt his point throughout the stories—being a refugee is something that never leaves you. Ever. It was so powerful.
This is an #ownvoices collection, and I didn’t spot anything particularly problematic. But this is an entirely new perspective for me, so I’m outside my wheelhouse here. Personally, I didn’t find anything problematic, and I loved every minute I spent reading it.
A reminder of the rating scale:
Red = DNF, I hated everything
Orange = Ugh, no thank you
Yellow = I mean, I’ve read worse, but there were problems
Green = This was good, but not something I’d reread
Blue = Oh my gosh, everyone should be reading this book
Purple = This is the unicorn of books and I will be rereading it until the binding falls apart
The Refugees is an important set of stories, in my opinion. It was powerful, it was poignant, and it was what I needed right now, in our current political climate. Would I reread it? Maybe. Probably not, but maybe. Because of this, I’m going to give The Refugees a GREEN rating. I’ll be recommending it, for sure.