I requested The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen because although I didn’t read his first novel The Sympathizer, it was so highly regarded that I couldn’t wait to get my hands on his latest work. The Refugees is a collection of eight short stories featuring the voice of Vietnamese refugees who are navigating their new country and those who were left behind in Ho Chi Minh City.
In all honesty, I couldn’t bring myself to finish this book. Although I really enjoyed and admired Nguyen’s writing style, I really struggled to connect with the experiences that characters were enduring. My knowledge of the Vietnam War does not extend much further that whatever we learned in eighth grade history class, so I think my ignorance of what the Vietnamese people truly experienced prevented me from being captivated by this novel. Furthermore, as a reader, I struggle with the lack of continuity and cohesiveness in collections of short stories. As strange as it may sound, I find it very challenging to keep having to reset every few dozen pages and open my heart to new characters, only to have them disappear so quickly. That being said, The Refugees is definitely a novel I would return to after I brushed up on my history because Nguyen did a remarkable job in creating depth and giving warmth to the characters he introduced in such a confined space.
Despite my high hopes for this novel, The Refugees fell quite short for me. However, for those of you out there who loved The Sympathizer and have a strong understanding of the impact of the Vietnam War, I think you will be very impressed with it. Nguyen writes with a whimsical style that is very impressive, however the overall context of the short stories failed to draw me in. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts on Nguyen’s first novel The Sympathizer if you think I should give it a chance and The Refugees hits stores on February 7th!
2 out of 5 stars
**A special thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an advanced review copy in return for an honest review**