Tag Archives: The Refugees

The secret to Viet Thanh Nguyen’s overnight success

The novelist seemed to go from unknown to MacArthur genius in two years. In truth, it took decades.

This month, the novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen was awarded one of the most prestigious honors a writer can receive: the MacArthur “genius” grant, given to artists, thinkers, and public intellectuals whose ideas have culture-altering potential. This, in itself, should surprise no one. Nguyen writes with arresting moral and intellectual force, often about people scarred and uprooted by conflict. As the MacArthur Foundation put it in its citation, Nguyen’s demonstrated a unique gift for exploring how depictions of the Vietnam War “often fail to capture the full humanity and inhumanity, the sacrifices and savagery, of participants on opposing sides.”

But the MacArthur is just the latest in an astonishing run of literary successes, one that makes it easy to forget a simple fact: A mere 18 months ago, Nguyen was still unknown as a fiction writer. His career began quickly, and seemingly out of nowhere, in April 2015 — when a rave on the cover of The New York Times Book Review made his debut novel, The Sympathizer, one of the year’s most-discussed books. Shortly after that, The Sympathizer won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in fiction, bringing Nguyen international fame. Since then, he’s stayed busy, publishing two celebrated books in short succession: a work of nonfiction cultural criticism, Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War, and a short story collection, The Refugees.

But Nguyen is no overnight sensation — far from it. In this interview, he opens up about a period of his life that’s been mostly overlooked: the two decades he spent trying, and mostly failing, to write fiction, working in secret while he juggled a host of other responsibilities. We discussed the 20 years of work that preceded his debut, the challenges he faced along the way, and — when it seemed his literary ambitions would never quite materialize — the strategies he used to keep going.

Viet Thanh Nguyen and I first spoke in 2015, discussing how he stumbled on The Sympathizer’s first sentence, an opening that finally allowed him to complete the rest of the book. That conversation appears in Light the Dark: Writers on Creativity, Inspiration, and the Artistic Process, published this fall by Penguin Books. He teaches at the University of Southern California, and spoke to me by phone.

Read More

Book review: Three Daughters of Eve looks at the challenges facing Muslims

By Lucy Scholes

This week I’ve read two new fictional works, both of which speak directly to the world today: Vietnamese-American author Viet Thanh Nguyen’s short-story collection, The Refugees; and Turkish writer Elif Shafak’s new novel, Three Daughters of Eve.

The Refugees, with its moving depiction of the immigrant experience in the United States, should be compulsory reading for anyone in favour of US president Donald Trump’s attempts at a refugee ban; while Three Daughters of Eve, in its efforts to speak to the broader ideological concerns that underlie this pernicious anti-Muslim hate-filled rhetoric, is a text to linger over. It’s a novel of ideas – sometimes to the detriment of its story – that advocates replacing dogma with doubt.

Opening in modern-day Istanbul – “a bloated goldfish, unaware of having gobbled more than it could digest, still searching around for more to eat” – Peri, a wealthy housewife and mother, is on her way to a dinner party at a seaside mansion. An altercation with a mugger leaves her out of sorts. In the course of their struggle a Polaroid snapshot, a “relic from a time long ago”, is shaken free from her handbag: a professor and three young female students outside the Bodleian Library in Oxford. Two narratives thus unspool: in the present, the performance of the dinner party – the small talk, the silent hovering servants, the polite but ultimately empty delight of fine food and wine, itself a delicious portrait of the contradictions and intolerances of the city’s bourgeoisie – fractiously rubbing up against Peri’s recollections of a buried episode in her past. Read more
Source: The National

Book review: Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Refugees tells eight tales of Vietnamese migrants

By Malcolm Forbes

There is a section in Ways of Escape where Graham Greene casts back to the early 1950s and discusses his love affair with Indochina in general and Vietnam in particular. He singles out Saigon’s opium fumeries, gambling houses and elegant girls, and the overall “feeling of exhilaration which a measure of danger brings to the visitor with a return ticket”.

That measure of danger would soon intensify, convulsing the country and displacing many of its people. In The Refugees, Viet Thanh Nguyen’s first collection of short stories and follow-up to his 2016 Pulitzer Prize-winning debut novel The Sympathizer, the focus is not on visitors to Vietnam with return tickets but Vietnamese migrants who have fled war on a one-way trip to a better future in the United States.

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.
Nguyen – who was born in Vietnam and raised in the US – opens the proceedings with one his strongest stories. Black-Eyed Women introduces us to a ghostwriter who looks back on her youth in Vietnam, “a haunted country”, and is then visited by the ghost of her brother, who died decades ago on the fishing boat which carried her to her current safe haven. Read more
Source: The National