Today, World Refugee Day, we honor all those around the world who face displacement, and remain indomitable in the face of it. As Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of The Refugees and The Sympathizer said in an interview with The Nation this month:
It’s easy for someone like me to pass himself off as an immigrant, to pretend to be an immigrant, but if I do that, I feel like I’m not speaking the truth. I feel that it’s necessary for people like me, who have benefited from being a refugee, to acknowledge our existence as such and to advocate for the new refugees today.
The following titles, which span novels, short fiction, and the literary anthology Freeman’s, center on refugee stories—and we could not imagine a better time than right now to read them.
The Refugees / Viet Thanh Nguyen
Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer was one of the most widely and highly praised novels of 2015. With the coruscating gaze of The Sympathizer, in The Refugees Viet Thanh Nguyen’s short stories give 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.
Badawi / Mohed Altrad
A heartrending debut novel inspired by the author’s own narrative arc from Bedouin orphan to engineer and finally billionaire businessman. In the Syrian desert, a young boy, Maïouf, watches as his mother dies, leaving him to his scornful grandmother. Though the Bedouin tribes have stopped their centuries-long travels across the dunes—their tents long since converted into sedentary shacks—Maïouf’s grandmother wants him to carry on the tradition of becoming a shepherd. But Maïouf envisions a different future for himself. This is one extraordinary child’s story of fighting for an education, and a life, he was never supposed to have.
The Disappeared / Kim Echlin
In this searing and courageous novel, Kim Echlin traces one woman’s journey from Montreal to Cambodia, as a brief affair turns into a grand passion of loss and remembrance, set against one of the most brutal genocides of the twentieth century. Anne Greves is sixteen years old when she first meets Serey, a Cambodian forced to leave his country during the rise of the Khmer Rouge regime. Swept up in first love, Anne rebels against her father’s wishes and embraces her relationship with Serey. But then the borders of Cambodia are reopened and Serey must risk his life to return home, alone, in search of his family. A decade later, Anne will travel halfway around the world to find him, and to save their relationship from the same tragic forces that first brought them together.
Freeman’s: Home / Various
The third literary anthology in the series that has been called “ambitious” (Oprah Magazine) and “strikingly international” (Boston Globe), Freeman’s: Home explores the idea and meaning of home in light of the refugee crisis. Viet Thanh Nguyen harks to an earlier age of displacement with a haunting piece of fiction about the middle passage made by those fleeing Vietnam after the war. Rabih Alameddine brings us back to the present, as he leaves his mother’s Beirut apartment to connect with Syrian refugees who are building a semblance of normalcy, even beauty, in the face of so much loss. Also including Thom Jones, Emily Raboteau, Rawi Hage, Barry Lopez, Herta Müller, Amira Hass, and more, writers from around the world lend their voices to the theme and what it means to build, leave, return to, lose, and love a home.
How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone / Sasa Stanisic
For young Aleksandar Krsmanovic, his grandfather Slavko’s credo—“the most valuable gift of all is invention, imagination is your greatest wealth”—endows life in Visegrad with a kaleidoscopic brilliance. When his grandfather dies suddenly, Aleks must call on this gift of storytelling to see him through his loss and grief. It is a gift he will have to call on again when soldiers transform Visegrad into a nightmarish landscape of terror and violence. Though Aleks and his family survive by fleeing to Germany, he is haunted by his past, and especially by Asija, the mysterious girl he tried to save. Desperate to learn of her fate, he sends manic, anguished letters out into the abyss, once again turning to language to conjure all that he’s had to forfeit—his homeland, his mother tongue, his innocence.
Jasmine / Bharati Mukherjee
When Jasmine is suddenly widowed at seventeen, she seems fated to a life of quiet isolation in the small Indian village where she was born. But the force of Jasmine’s desires propels her explosively into a larger, more dangerous, and ultimately more life-giving world. In just a few years, Jasmine becomes Jane Ripplemeyer, happily pregnant by a middle-aged Iowa banker and the adoptive mother of a Vietnamese refugee. Jasmine’s metamorphosis, with its sudden upheavals and its slow evolutionary steps, illuminates the making of an American mind; but even more powerfully, her story depicts the shifting contours of an America being transformed by her and others like her–our new neighbors, friends, and lovers.
Shards / Ismet Prcic
Ismet Prcic’s brilliant and provocative debut novel is about a young Bosnian, also named Ismet Prcic, who has fled his war-torn homeland and is now struggling to reconcile his past with his present life in California. He is advised that in order to move forward he must “write everything.” The result is a great rattle bag of memories, confessions, and fictions. And as Ismet’s foothold in the present falls away, his writings are further complicated by stories from the point of view of another young man—real or imagined—named Mustafa, who joined a troop of elite soldiers and stayed in Bosnia to fight. When Mustafa’s story begins to overshadow Ismet’s New World identity, the reader is charged with piecing together the fragments of a life that has become eerily unrecognizable, even to the one living it.
Firefly / Henry Porter / Forthcoming in October 2018!
This one’s not out until fall, but we’re already excited about Porter’s devastatingly timely thriller following the refugee trail from Syria to Europe. From the refugee camps of Greece to the mountains of Macedonia, a thirteen-year-old boy is making his way to Germany and to safety. Codenamed “Firefly,” he holds vital intelligence: unparalleled insight into a vicious ISIS terror cell, and details of their plans. But the terrorists are hot on his trail, determined he won’t live to pass on the information. When MI6 become aware of Firefly and what he knows, the race is on to find him. Luc Samson, ex-MI6 agent and now private eye, finds himself recruited to the cause. Fluent in Arabic thanks to his Lebanese heritage and himself the product of an earlier era of violent civil war, Samson’s job is to find Firefly, win his trust, and get him to safety.