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The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Refugees  by Viet Thanh NguyenThe Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Published by Grove Press on February, 7, 2017
Genres: Short Stories
Pages: 224
Source: Purchased: ebook
Goodreads
five-stars

With the coruscating gaze that informed 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.

This 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.

Wow this collection made me think and get even more fascinated about those who left Vietnam and came to the United States to resettle. Some stories didn’t resonate with me as much as others did. The stories flowed together well though I thought.

“Black-Eyed Women” (5 stars)- a woman with a career as a ghostwriter finds herself laying some ghosts to rest. Her heartbreaking story of her and her family fleeing for a better life in America will gut you when you get to the end and read about how entwined she is with her mother.

“The Other Man” (5 stars)- a man who resettles in the US in the 1970s finds himself on uncharted territory when he ends up being sponsored by two gay men in San Francisco.

“War Years” (5 stars)- a young boy recounts a story about a widowed woman from Vietnam demanding money from his family in order to fight the Communists. The story helps him see his mother and father in a new light. I honestly thought the story was going in a different direction until I got to the end and you end up feeling pity.

“The Transplant” (4 stars)- A man named Arthur Arellano who has a liver transplant. This causes him to look for the man’s family. This causes him to look at his family in a different way when he finally meets the son of his transplant donor. I was enjoying this until the end, when I think that Nguyen maybe wanted you to feel sorry for poor put upon Arthur. I was kind of over this guy though when you realize how self absorbed he is.

“I’d Love You to Want Me” (5 stars)- A woman who is struggling with her husband’s onset of Alzheimer’s. Mrs. Khanh’s story was probably my next favorite after Black-Eyed Women. Her realizing that her husband had a life she didn’t know and how she really doesn’t care for her oldest son. You get to see Mrs. Khanh slowly giving up on her dreams when she starts to think about what does love really mean. In her mind, it’s being devoted.

“The Americans” (5 stars)- James Carver, an African American former Air Force pilot (I think) goes back to Vietnam with his Japanese wife to visit their daughter who is there teaching. Lord, his daughter was exhausting. There’s a scene when she yells at her father for what he did while running missions in the country. And sigh, nope, no sympathy for Claire. I did love though James going through his struggles in his career and life and him being pretty baffled by his daughter and what she wants from him. Loved the ending a lot though.

“Someone Else Besides You” (3 stars)- My least favorite. A man going through his family’s history and why he wasn’t ready to have children with his ex wife. The father in this story was odd to me. I don’t know what his purpose was besides to criticize the son. The story takes an odd turn after some vandalism.

“Fatherland” (5 stars)-Really enjoyed this one. A woman named Phuong is excited to meet her half sister who has lived in America, that comes back to Vietnam to visit her, and the rest of the family. The story set up (Phuong’s sister Vivien) was raised with her two other siblings in America and her mother divorced their father. The father marries his mistress and has three other children he names after the first set (yeah that happened). What I loved was Phuong coming to realization about her father and her half sister.

five-stars

Difficult Women by Roxanne Gay

Difficult Women by Roxanne GayDifficult Women by Roxanne Gay
Published by Grove Press on January 3rd 2017
Genres: Short Stories
Pages: 260
Source: Purchased: print book
Goodreads
four-stars

Award-winning author and powerhouse talent Roxane Gay burst onto the scene with An Untamed State—which earned rave reviews and was selected as one of the best books of the year by the Washington Post, NPR, the Boston Globe, and Kirkus—and her New York Times bestselling essay collection Bad Feminist (Harper Perennial). Gay returns with Difficult Women, a collection of stories of rare force and beauty, of hardscrabble lives, passionate loves, and quirky and vexed human connection.

The women in these stories live lives of privilege and of poverty, are in marriages both loving and haunted by past crimes or emotional blackmail. A pair of sisters, grown now, have been inseparable ever since they were abducted together as children, and must negotiate the marriage of one of them. A woman married to a twin pretends not to realize when her husband and his brother impersonate each other. A stripper putting herself through college fends off the advances of an overzealous customer. A black engineer moves to Upper Michigan for a job and faces the malign curiosity of her colleagues and the difficulty of leaving her past behind. From a girls’ fight club to a wealthy subdivision in Florida where neighbors conform, compete, and spy on each other, Gay delivers a wry, beautiful, haunting vision of modern America reminiscent of Merritt Tierce, Jamie Quatro, and Miranda July.

I honestly didn’t like some of the stories which is why I ended up giving this collection as a whole 4 stars. Gay writes extremely well though. I can honestly say that I could picture everything that she was describing in her stories. To the point a few times I had to hug myself at the end of a story. I am happy that I bought this though since I can see myself in the future re-reading some of my favorite stories, and that’s how you know you have a home-run with me that even without it being a 5 star rated book by me, I have every intention of coming back and thinking about what was written. I honestly wish that Gay would come back and revisit some of these characters in future works.

“I Will Follow You” (5 stars)-The love that a pair of sisters have for one another. This story sets the stage for the rest of the collection. I actually re-read this one twice just because I wanted to let the story live longer with me. Heartbreaking and full of hope at the same time.

“Water, All Its Weight” (3 stars)-I honestly was confused with this one. It definitely had a fairytale aspect to it. But after reading the previous story, I guess I wasn’t in the headspace for something I found to just be quirky.

“The Mark of Cain” (3 stars)-This one was weird. A woman pulled between two brothers. I honestly didn’t get why she made the choices she did. I think throughout the whole story I was just confused. I don’t know why anyone would say to themselves this is a good life. But maybe that was the lesson that Gay was trying to get across.

“Difficult Women” (5 stars)-I loved how Gay breaks down all of the cliches we have all heard before about women. Breaking things down so that you can see the woman behind the loose, frigid, and crazy. About seeing what mothers and even dead girls think about. Wonderful from beginning to end.

When a Crazy Woman is Misunderstood

It started with a phone call after a third date where she followed him home and they had sex, nothing memorable, but overall, adequate.

They had breakfast at the diner next door.

He ate eggs, scrambled soft.

She had pancakes, doused in syrup and butter.

“I can’t believe you’re a woman who eats,” he said.

“You’re a goddamned dream.

 

FLORDIA (5 stars)-Once again Gay breaks down a community of women that live in a gated community in Florida.

La Negra Blanca (4 stars)-A look at a woman who is passing as white who uses what she has body wise to pay for school. I like the story, but think adding in the customer to it made it a little too Hollywood movie for me. He was also a gross figure and the whole ending left me with chills. I maybe made sure my door was locked at the end of this story.

“Baby Arm” (2 stars)-My least favorite of all of the stories. I don’t know, I feel like this is something that I maybe once upon watched on Adult Swim at night one time. Only in anime form or something. I also started giggling remembering 30 Rock with Liz Lemon.

“North Country” (5 stars)-I loved this story from beginning to end. Reading about a woman learning to love again and a man who works his way into her heart was great. I would love to see this brought to film one day. The narrator’s story of how she ended up where she was to meet Magnus was great.

“How” (3 stars)-Eh. I think that it was just okay. I didn’t have any big takeaways from it. And I hate how the character of Hanna never did reveal what her mother had to say.

“Requiem for a Glass Heart” (2 stars)-I didn’t really care for this story much. Once again based on what went before, it was just okay.

“In the Event of My Father’s Death” (3 stars)-I hated the ending.

“Break All the Way Down” (5 stars)-Once again this story brought to film would be wonderful. I loved it. I also got why the main character was punishing herself. When the reveal comes out you will get it too.

“Bad Priest” (3 stars)-Just made me think about the Thorn Birds. Nothing Earth shattering here.

“Open Marriage” (4 stars)-The shortest of the short stories and the one that did crack me up.

“Best Features” (5 stars)-I loved Milly and sat and thought to myself how many of my friends and even me have had that thing drilled into our heads due to what is considered undesirable. I was made fun of for being light skinned and would often sit outside to make myself darker. For some African American men I am too dark, for others, not light enough, for some white men definitely too dark and for some of them they want someone dark skinned to make things more “exotic.” With Milly being heavy weight she always feels as if she has to give in anytime a man shows her interest since she knows that she is not seen as desirable like thin women are. Just loved the whole story. It really made me think.

“Bone Density” (5 stars)-The ins and outs of marriage. I am pretty happy that I am single after reading this story.

“I Am a Knife” (3 stars)-Once again I didn’t get this until almost the end. But I have to say that I got bored with reading the word knife over and over again.

“The Sacrifice of Darkness” (4.5 stars)-I liked this one though I found most of it to be odd. If you can get your head past the central premise of the story you may like it too.

“Noble Things” (4 stars)-Way too soon after the US election and Gay imagines a world in which we have another Civil War. I liked this story, but thought the ending didn’t quite get there.

“Strange Gods” (5 stars)-A powerful ending to this collection. Until you get to the reveal you don’t get what is happening with our narrator. You just know that she loves the man she’s with and is in a stream of consciousness writing tell him her beginning that he is unaware of right now.

I liked for the most part that in every story that the women/girls within it were not just white and that so many issues were brought up in this collection: rape, spousal abuse, lying, sexual needs, faith, sin, hope, I can go on. Definitely worth a read!

four-stars

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