THE REFUGEES is a collection of stories which portray plight and displacement. What is home after all? A place you are born and brought up in? How does one define home when one is compelled to leave their motherland and stay in an alien country with different customs, people? The book is timely in regard to the current situation which prevails. Each story is written with simplicity. This proves effective in understanding the dilemmas faced by the various characters. The characters in this book don't expect pity or sympathy. Each story is a gem and I wish there was more!
The Refugees is a collection of short stories on the lives of Vietnamese immigrants in USA by Viet Thanh Nguen who won the Pulitzer Prize for his debut novel ‘The Sympathizer’. From the title one expects stories of loss, displacement, pain and suffering alone, since these are the only things that we associate with refugees. But the book does not focus on these much. The stories look at the characters as human beings, their being refugees in the past serving as a backdrop. We see refugees to be people like us with focus on the mundane aspects of their life – love, relationship, sex, family. This is the most refreshing aspect of this book. Having said that I did not like the book much because the characters are lifeless and still. You do not feel for any of them nor identify with them.
The power of a short story lies in the impact that it can create on the reader in lesser words than a novel. In my experience, I have never been able to read one good short story after another even if there were by the same author, because a good story makes you pause. You want to hold on to it, reflect on it for a while before moving to the next one. For this reason, I have read collections of short stories slower than novels.
But The Refugees does not have this effect. The plot of each story is intriguing – a man who develops Alzheimer’s mistakes his wife for a past lover. I liked the plot. What if? What would be the reaction of the wife? Would she be mad at him? Does his confusion mean that he did not love the wife as much or their marital life was a sham? Or it is one of life’s cruel coincidences with no specific meaning? But the story ends without touching any of these questions. It ends without making us wonder, without touching heart strings. This is true for all stories in this collection.