Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

The Refugees

by Viet Thanh Nguyen

From the author of The Sympathizer, winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, The Refugees is a collection of stories imbued with Nguyen’s extraordinary gift for writing, exploring questions of home, family, immigration, and the American experience.

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 240
  • Publication Date January 02, 2018
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2736-5
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $16.00
  • Imprint Grove Hardcover
  • Page Count 224
  • Publication Date February 07, 2017
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2639-9
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $25.00

About The Book

Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer was one of the most widely and highly praised novels of 2015, the winner not only of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction but also the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, the Edgar Award for Best First Novel, the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, and the California Book Award for First Fiction. Nguyen’s next fiction book, The Refugees, is a collection of perfectly formed stories written over a period of twenty years, exploring questions of immigration, identity, love, and family.

With the coruscating gaze of The Sympathizer, in The Refugees Viet Thanh Nguyen gives voice to lives led between two worlds, the adopted homeland and the country of birth. 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.

The second piece of fiction by a major new voice in American letters, The Refugees is a beautifully written and sharply observed book about the aspirations of those who leave one country for another, and the relationships and desires for self-fulfillment that define our lives.


“Stories about people poised between their devastated homeland and their affluent adopted country . . . Viet Thanh Nguyen [is] one of our great chroniclers of displacement . . . beautiful and heartrending . . . Nguyen’s narrative style—restrained, spare, avoiding metaphor or the syntactical virtuosity on display in every paragraph of The Sympathizer—is well suited for portraying tentative states . . . all Nguyen’s fiction is pervaded by a shared intensity of vision, by stinging perceptions that drift like windblown ashes.” —Joyce Carol Oates, New Yorker

“These stories of Vietnamese refugees cast a lingering spell . . . [A] superb new collection . . . The collection’s subtle, attentive prose and straightforward narrative style perfectly suit the low-profile civilian lives it explores . . . With the volume turned down, we lean in more closely, listening beyond what the refugees say to step into their skins.” —Mia Alvar, New York Times Book Review

“A beautiful collection that deftly illustrates the experiences of the kinds of people our country has, until recently, welcomed with open arms . . . It’s hard not to feel for Nguyen’s characters . . . But Nguyen never asks the reader to pity them; he wants us only to see them as human beings. And because of his wonderful writing, it’s impossible not to do so. It’s an urgent, wonderful collection that proves that fiction can be more than mere storytelling—it can bear witness to the lives of people who we can’t afford to forget.” —Michael Schaub, NPR Books

The Refugees is as impeccably written as it is timed . . . This is an important and incisive book written by a major writer with firsthand knowledge of the human rights drama exploding on the international stage–and the talent to give us inroads toward understanding it . . . It is refreshing and essential to have this work from a writer who knows and feels the terrain on an intellectual, emotional and cellular level–it shows . . . An exquisite book.” —Megan Mayhew Bergman, Washington Post

The Refugees arrives right on time . . . In The Refugees, such figures aren’t, contra Trump, an undifferentiated, threatening mass. They are complicatedly human and deserving our care and empathy . . . In our moment, to look faithfully and empathetically at the scars made by dislocation, to bear witness to the past pain and present vulnerability such scars speak of, is itself a political act. So, too, is Nguyen’s dedication: ‘For all refugees, everywhere.’” —Anthony Domestico, Boston Globe

“Tragically good timing . . . A short-story collection mostly plumbing the experience of boat-bound Vietnamese who escaped to California . . . But there are others of different nationalities, alienated not from a nation but from love or home, and displaced in subtler ways . . . Ultimately, Nguyen enlarges empathy, the high ideal of literature and the enemy of hate and fear.” —Boris Kachka, New York

“The 2016 Pulitzer Prize winner returns with a beautifully crafted collection that explores the netherworld of Vietnamese refugees, whose lives and cultural dislocation he dissects with precision and grace.” —O, The Oprah Magazine

The Refugees showcases the same astute and penetrating intelligence that characterized [Nguyen’s] Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Sympathizer . . . Nguyen is an expert on prickly family dynamics . . . He can also be a sly humorist . . . The Refugees confirms Nguyen as an agile, trenchant writer, able to inhabit a number of contrary points of view. And it whets your appetite for his next novel.” —Michael Upchurch, Seattle Times

“A terrific new book of short stories . . . Nguyen is an exceptional storyteller who packs an enormous amount of information and images into a short work . . . Nguyen’s vision of the Vietnamese migration to the United States and its impact on the nation is complex. His message is not Pollyannaish or demonizing . . . Nguyen’s message, instead, is that they are people, like all of us, with complicated lives and histories.” —Trine Tsouderos, Chicago Tribune

“[A] quietly profound peek into the lives of Vietnam’s deracinated and dispossessed . . . Absorb[s] both the nostalgia and bitterness that have characterized so many refugees in the decades since 1975, when South Vietnam fell to the communist North and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese began streaming out of their homeland.” —Rayyan Al-Shawaf, San Francisco Chronicle

The Refugees is both timely, given the current debate about refugees in America, and timeless in its exploration of universal human struggles. This gorgeous collection of short stories recalls Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies, but with Vietnam as the loose center around which the richly drawn characters orbit . . . The writing in The Refugees is resonant and evocative, abounding with delightful descriptions . . . A must-read.” —Rasha Madkour, Associated Press

“[A] timely story collection . . . As our first major Vietnamese-American writer, Nguyen is a prodigious genius making up for lost time.” –Marion Winik, Newsday

“At a time when paranoia about refugees and migrants has reached a new high in America and perhaps the world, Viet Thanh Nguyen’s first collection of short stories, The Refugees, adds a necessary voice humanizing this group of demonized people . . . These eight works celebrate the art of telling stories as an act of resilience and survival . . . A beautifully written collection, filled with empathy and insight into the lives of people who have too often been erased from the larger American media landscape.” —May-lee Chai, Dallas Morning News

The Refugees is the book we need now . . . [Nguyen’s] new short story collection demonstrates the richness of the refugee experience—and highlights its singular traumas . . . The most timely short story collection in recent memory . . . The stories in The Refugees [are] haunting and heart-wrenching, but also wry and unapologetic in their humanity . . . Throughout, Nguyen demonstrates the richness of the refugee experience, while also foregrounding the very real trauma that lies at its core.” —Doree Shafrir, BuzzFeed

“The perfect book to read at this historical moment in America . . . With the self-reflection of memoir and the clear-eyed, impartial narration of a history, Nguyen takes readers deep inside his characters in a mere few pages . . . Eye-opening . . . Read it now, or read it later—but read it.” —Claire Fallon, Huffington Post

The Refugees is full of complicated family dynamics, cultural rifts and surprising resolutions . . . The eight unpredictable and moving stories that make up The Refugees are a remarkable achievement.” —Tom Zelman, Minneapolis Star Tribune

“With masterful economy and ease, the Pulitzer Prize-winner subverts our expectations of the refugee experience . . . [An] extraordinary collection . . . Despite the many accolades heaped upon Nguyen . . . it still comes as a revelation just how beguiling these stories are. Sharp, sardonic, poignant and profoundly human . . . The true power of this collection lies in the way Nguyen subverts stereo—typical notions of the refugee experience, both sharpening and stretching our appreciation of its vast, universal dimensions in stories that range across generations, gender and time . . . Nguyen also possesses an extraordinary ability to evoke the everyday, the quotidian details of ordinary lives in vivid, direct prose.” —Bron Sibree, South China Morning Post

The Refugees will haunt its readers, especially in these times, when refugee stories need to be told, shared, and told again, ad infinitum.” —Rien Fertel, A.V. Club

“[A] sophisticated collection . . . Many of these short stories are bona fide perfect . . . Each story is so smooth that you don’t at first realize how richly the author is layering his worlds . . . Nguyen’s character studies are languorous and spacious, a collection that feels like a whole.” —Saturday Paper

“Nguyen’s stories deal with ghosts and patriotism, mental illness and infidelity, and gender roles and homosexuality, among other topics that highlight the tensions and complexities involved in the refugees’ search for identity and belonging. The stories humanize Vietnamese-Americans who do not always fit the inflexible ‘model minority’ stereotype. They take a segment of the American population not always on the social radar and bring it into sharp relief.” —Quang Tran, America Magazine

“In the US, two kinds of stories typically exist about Vietnam and its people: jungles and napalm, or protest and politics. A new collection of short stories by Viet Thanh Nguyen will change that . . . Nguyen . . . is an expert on the implications of displacement . . . A worthy reminder that refugees are children, mothers, and fathers–not just casualties.” —Thu-Huong Ha, Quartz

“Excellent . . . Nguyen conveys the trauma and lingering melancholy of displacement in a way that feels deeply honest yet still wonderfully imaginative . . . Nguyen has a remarkable eye for detail that allows him to cast every image with real emotional force . . . Nguyen’s writing is lyrical and searingly evocative . . . An essential read for anyone seeking to understand the immigrant experience . . . Nguyen’s writing–as polished and powerful as it was in The Sympathizer—confirms the author’s place among today’s most compelling literary voices.” —Lien E. Le, Harvard Crimson

“The stories abound with images of doubleness and surreal twists of perception, often imbuing the narratives with a dreamlike clarity and strangeness . . . Throughout the collection Nguyen crafts a personal language and imagery superbly fitted to each character’s volatile, near-inexpressible memories and reflections. He instinctively understands what to leave off the page and what to include, and when to allow readers to fill in the most painful details for themselves.” —James Grainger, Toronto Star

“[An] accomplished collection . . . With anger but not despair, with reconciliation but not unrealistic hope, and with genuine humour that is not used to diminish anyone, Nguyen has breathed life into many unforgettable characters, and given us a timely book focusing, in the words of Willa Cather, on ‘the slow working out of fate in people of allied sentiment and allied blood.’” —Yiyun Li, Guardian

“Delicately captures the traumas and triumphs of the migrant experience . . . [A] poignant collection of short stories . . . Powerful . . . Nguyen’s stories are to be admired for their ability to encompass not only the trauma of forced migration but also the grand themes of identity, the complications of love and sexuality, and the general awkwardness of being . . . They are also humorous and smart . . . Nguyen writes . . . with a unique poetry.” —Fatima Bhutto, Financial Times (UK)

“With President Trump’s recent attempt to ban refugees from entering America, the quiet but impressively moving tales dissecting the Vietnamese experience in California in Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Refugees are a powerful antidote to all the fear mongering and lies out there . . . A rich exploration of human identity, family ties and love and loss, never has a short story collection been timelier.” —Lucy Scholes, The Independent (UK)

“This stunning collection of stories affirms the brilliance of Nguyen . . . A collection of exceptional stories that ring with topicality and truth . . . The opening story, ‘Black-Eyed Women’ . . . is a superbly orchestrated piece of writing, with many movements and depths, moving across generations . . . The Refugees is a book that needs to be read: it is astonishingly good.” —Donal O’Donoghue, RT Guide (Ireland)

“A timely look at lives of outsiders in America . . . [Nguyen’s] understanding of the refugee tragedy . . . is profound. Yet, the abiding power of these intelligent, crafted stories is his reading of human nature in domestic situations and often astute dialogue . . . [An] unpretentious, deliberate and well-observed collection.” —Eileen Battersby, Irish Times

“The eight stories that make up this brief volume are a delight . . . The short story is a beautiful affirmation of the supreme importance of art in our daily lives. And Viet Thanh Nguyen drives that point home brilliantly.” —Mekong Review

“Hits like a punch in the gut . . . The Sympathizer is a hard act to follow, but The Refugees‘ eight stories are pared so thin of superfluity that their elegant brevity more than stands up against their brilliant . . . predecessor . . . Harrowing yet heartening . . . [A] timely collection . . . with devastating grace.” —Straits Times (Singapore)

“A collection of short stories that span [Nguyen’s] 20-year struggle to earn the title of ‘writer.’” —Kanyakrit Vongkiatkajorn, Mother Jones

“At a time when the American federal government is questioning more than ever the value of refugees’ lives, this book is not only a moving read—it’s utterly necessary.” —Amy Brady, Literary Hub

“Viet Thanh Nguyen writes funny . . . But what also makes him such a notable writer is how he can oscillate from comedy to tragedy . . . Viet’s stories succeed.” —Akhil Sharma, Electric Literature

“A remarkable work of fiction.” —Bustle (“15 of 2017’s Most Anticipated Fiction Books”)

“Both a timely work of fiction and an artistic retrospective of a community’s voyage over the decades.” —Paul Taunton, National Post (Buzz-worthy Books for February)

“Nguyen’s brilliant new work of fiction offers vivid and intimate portrayals of characters and explores identity, war, and loss in stories collected over a period of two decades.” —Millions (Most Anticipated Book Previews)

“A collection of stories that could not be any more relevant for the years that lie ahead. Dedicated to all refugees, everywhere, Nguyen’s absorbing prose about people forced to leave their homes and begin anew should be mandatory reading for 2017.” —AM New York (2017 Books to Read)

“A heart-rending work exploring themes of identity, culture, family, immigration, alienation, and the desire to belong . . . A captivating testament to the dreams and hardships of immigration.” —Zeynep Sen,
New York Journal of Books

The Refugees could not be more timely—or timeless . . . Nguyen handles the subject matter with empathy and sociopolitical awareness. He pairs brutally authentic realism with lyric narratives to ultimately resonate with haunting truth . . . These stories are unified by their gentle poignancy and their investigations into shifting identity . . . haunting, beautiful and urgent.” —BookReporter.com

“A luminous collection . . . that takes piercingly intimate looks at the lives of refugees . . . Nguyen’s prose is consistently eloquent and thoughtful.” —8Asians.com

“Each searing tale in Nguyen’s follow-up to the Pulitzer-winning The Sympathizer is a pressure cooker of unease, simmering with unresolved issues of memory and identity for the Vietnamese whose lives were disrupted by the ‘American War.’ . . . . Nguyen is not here to sympathize . . . but to challenge the experience of white America as the invisible norm.” —Publishers Weekly (starred, boxed review)

“A collection of fluidly modulated yet bracing stories about Vietnamese refugees in the U.S., powerful tales of rupture and loss that detonate successive shock waves . . . Each intimate, supple, and heartrending story is unique in its particulars even as all are works of piercing clarity, poignant emotional nuance, and searing insights into the trauma of war and the long chill of exile, the assault on identity and the resilience of the self, and the fragility and preciousness of memories.” —Booklist (starred review)

“For Nguyen groupies desperate for future titles (including a Sympathizer sequel), [The] Refugees is a highly gratifying interlude. For short fiction fans of other extraordinary, between-culture collections such as Daniyal Mueenuddin’s In Other Rooms, Other Wonders and Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth, Nguyen won’t disappoint.” —Library Journal (starred review)

“Precise without being clinical, archly humorous without being condescending, and full of understanding; many of the stories might have been written by a modern Flaubert, if that master had spent time in San Jose or Ho Chi Minh City . . . [Nguyen’s] stories, excellent from start to finish, transcend ethnic boundaries to speak to human universals.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Nguyen’s penetrating gaze will mesmerize readers and open windows to the particular nuances of a population struggling to find its identity . . . While Nguyen offers philosophical battles both internal and external, he also uses language that is delivered with reverence and grace, conjuring robust imagery . . . The Refugees is simply a beautiful collection of captivating stories. Nguyen’s flair with words and his genius at succinct, compelling plots and dynamic characters creates huge worlds in few pages. This is a book to savor again and again.” —Jen Forbus, Shelf Awareness

“In these times of looking inward and shutting out, of breaking down bridges and building walls, Nguyen’s eight stark and incisive tales provide valuable, necessary insight into the pain and upheaval of exchanging a homeland for an adopted other . . . ‘stories are just things we fabricate, nothing more,’ one character declares. But they aren’t, or at least not in Nguyen’s capable hands. His are rich, transformative tales whose truths run deep and whose characters’ plights move us.” —Malcolm Forbes, National (Abu Dhabi)

“A tremendously compelling read. With The Refugees we are beginning to get a sense of the immensity of Viet Thanh Nguyen’s ability as a writer and thinker.” —Paul Yamazaki, City Lights, San Francisco

“Viet Thanh Nguyen really has pulled off a literary hat trick, in quick succession at that—brilliant novel (The Sympathizer), brilliant non-fiction study (Nothing Ever Dies)—and now, with The Refugees, a superb, brilliant book of stories. These books do stand apart, distinct from each other, which makes the world limned in these stories even more remarkable. These are fully human tales, what these vividly rendered characters encounter, all in some way, taking on the shock of arrival in a new land, if not departure from what had been home. This is beautiful, telling work—once again!” —Rick Simonson, Elliott Bay Book Company

The Refugees continues our opportunity to get to know Viet Thanh Nguyen, who we met with The Sympathizer. The stories set out immigrant experiences both here and in other places (mainly Vietnam). The experiences are riveting, compelling, and ring true. The writing, as I am told has been said, is as good as The Sympathizer, but a comparison is really not necessary. This work should be on everyone’s shelves for itself.” —Steve Bercu, BookPeople

“Viet’s writing in The Sympathizer reminded me of Ravel’s Bolero . . . starting quietly with an assured fullness, yet becomes more insistent until fully realized. The Refugees—story as ’tude. Each rather difficult, yet short and provocative. ‘Black-eyed Women’ totally enveloped me. Ghosts, writing, dominant mothers, the primacy of sons . . . a self-effacing writer of stories allegedly more interesting. I love the line from the nameless narrator talking to her ghost brother: ‘Why have you come back?’ . . . ‘I haven’t come back, he said. I’ve come here.’ YES, I say to that. A lovely nuanced theory of visitation.” —Lucy Kogler, Talking Leaves Books


Asian Pacific American Librarians Association Honor Award
Finalist for the California Book Awards (Fiction)
Nominated for the Bookish Awards (Best Short Story Collection)
A New York Times Notable Book of the Year 2017
Named a Best Book of the Year by NPR, San Francisco Chronicle, Esquire, BuzzFeed, Electric Literature, Chicago Public Library, National Post, Kirkus Reviews, BookPage, and Goodreads
Longlisted for the Aspen Words Literary Prize
An Indie Next Selection
Named One of 100 Must-Read Contemporary Short Story Collections by Book Riot


From “Black-Eyed Women”

Ever since my father died a few years ago, my mother and I had lived together politely. We shared a passion for words, but I preferred writing in silence while she loved to talk. She constantly fed me gossip and stories. The only kind I enjoyed concerned my father when he was a man I did not know, young and happy. Then came stories of terror like the one about the reporter, the moral being that life, like the police, enjoys beating people now and again. Finally there was her favorite kind, the ghost story, of which she knew many, some even firsthand.

Aunt Six died of a heart attack at seventy-six, she told me once, twice, or perhaps three times, repetition being her habit. I never took her stories seriously. She lived in Vung Tau and we were in Nha Trang, she said. I was bringing dinner to the table when I saw Aunt Six sitting there in her nightgown. Her long gray hair, which she usually wore in a chignon, was loose and fell over her shoulders and in her face.

I almost dropped the dishes. When I asked her what she was doing here, she just smiled. She stood up, kissed me, and turned me towards the kitchen. When I turned around again to see her, she was gone. It was her ghost. Uncle confirmed it when I called. She had passed away that morning, in her own bed.