“The Refugees” by Viet Thanh Nguyen

The DC Public Library published a discussion guide for The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen, along with responses from D.C. residents. 

For those reading The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen, here are discussion questions for each story in the book as well as conversations recorded by D.C. residents who read the story:

Black-eyed Women”

  1. The narrator of the story is a ghostwriter. She asks, “Was it ironic, then, that I made a living from being a ghost writer?” What elements of her personal story make her career choice ironic?
  2. How is that she, as a writer, has such trouble finding the words to speak to her brother?
  3. Why is Victor’s statement, “You aren’t afraid of the things you believe in,” important to this story?

For the story “Black Eyed Women,” four of the library’s People and Stories coordinators discussed the stories and its themes. As part of this program, My Nguyen, Eric White, Jay Sambasivan and Wanda Jones lead short-story discussions with a wide variety of community groups; “Black Eyed Women” was recently added to the program.

“The Other Man”

  1. How do you feel, as a reader, about Marcus’s advice to Liem “the best way you can help them now is by helping yourself.” Is this advice suitable to Liem (above)? Unlike Liem, Marcus is not a political refugee.
  2. Who is the “other man”? Does the end of the story, where Liem doesn’t recognize himself in the window but is seen by the men outside, give us a clue?

For the story “The Other Man,”  we recorded a conversation between Eric Stults and Oleg Tomilin of Center Global who discussed the story and its themes.

“War Years”

  1. What was it about seeing Mrs. Hoa’s home that changed the narrator’s mother’s mind about giving her money? What perception did the mother have of Mrs. Hoa after she followed her home and spoke with her in her home? Were any of her initial perceptions changed?
  2. Do you believe the son still would’ve had a hard time picking out a treat at 7-11 if he hadn’t been to Mrs. Hoa’s house?

For the story “War Years,” we recorded a conversation between library Teen Council members Paige Hollander and Lauren Chineme who discussed the story and its themes.

“The Transplant”

  1. Discuss the multiple uses of “transplant” in this story.
  2. Identity is a central theme in this story as well; Arthur seems lost in his marriage and his debt, and Louis lies about his identity and deals in counterfeit products. What is the author trying to convey about false identities?

For the story “The Transplant,” we recorded a conversation between Angela Spring of Duende Districtbooks and Eric Wang of Toli Moli Burmese bodega who discussed the story and its themes.

“I’d Love You to Want Me”

  1. Mrs. Khanh is a librarian and treasures her books. Sadly, she sees “her book of life is being closed.” Discuss this in light of how much younger she is than her husband and how others in the story see her.
  2. How is the painting the son gives to his father a reflection of his parents’ marriage?
  3. How did you feel when you learned Mrs. Khanh was writing entries in her husband’s notebooks?

For the story “I’d Love You to Want Me,” we recorded a conversation between library staff members Annie Lyon and Ingrid Lombardo who discussed the story and its themes. Ingrid will lead a discussion on Twitter about the book on May 8 at 8 p.m. Look for our account @dcpl and the tag #ShortStoryDC.

“The Americans”

  1. While the father and daughter had conflicts, they might have more in common than they know. Discuss how both have felt at different times in their lives that “there was never a place for me.”
  2. The daughter feels she has to “correct” being an American. Discuss what she means by that.

For the story “The Americans,” we recorded a conversation with longtime DC residents and siblings Cecil Haney and Yvonne Coates who discussed the story and its themes.

“Someone Else Besides You”

  1. Thomas’ father had affairs with women other than his mother. Why is he so intent on Thomas reuniting with Sam?
  2. Thomas’ father says he never chose a woman for his son to marry because he wanted Thomas to find someone he loved. However, he presses Thomas to reunite with Sam. Why?
  3. What do you suppose Mimi means when she says to Thomas, “Aren’t there times when you’d rather be someone else besides you?”

“Fatherland”

  1. Phuong’s father repeated his troubles during and after the war when Phoung said that her generation was no so lucky, especially as compared to Vivian’s. He could not appreciate the comparison Phuong was making between her life and Vivian’s. Why?
  2. Why do you think Vivian told Phuong the truth about her life in America?
  3. Pity and shame play a big part in this story on the part of several characters. Discuss how Phuong uses both to deal with the laminated photographs at the end of the story.

For the story “Fatherland,” we recorded a conversation between dc1968 project historian Marya McQuirterand DC Public Library’s Special Collections director Kerrie Cotten Williams discussed the story and its themes.

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