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May 2021: The Refugees

Updated: Sep 2, 2022

Order the book through your local bookstore, through Source Booksellers (our exclusive partner), online, or check your local library for digital and physical loans.

Contextual Links

We recommend perusing these links to get additional context about the book, the author, and the themes of the book. Spoilers ahead, though!

Discussion Questions

The Refugees is a set of short stories with dramatically different themes. The following are a few questions for each short story. These questions are a mix of ours, from LitLovers, and the D.C. Public Library.


  • What can be articulated about the refugee experience in the US, especially for refugees fleeing US intervention?

  • What does the American disconnect between war and human impact highlight about the Viet (and Hmong, Lao, and Khmer) experience?

Black Eyed Woman

  • How does "living as a ghost" show up in this story? Does it show up in your story?

  • Does your family or community preserve individual memories as part of the collective story? Why or why not?

The Other Man

  • 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?

  • 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?

  • How does sexuality and sex show up in political trauma?

War Years

  • The first phrase of the opening sentence recalls the time Mrs. Hoa "broke into our lives." Why "broke"? What does that particular word suggest?

  • How do other ethnic communities use collective trauma from "the homeland" to drive wedges in the US?

  • How do we observe our parents? How do we imagine our parents before us?

The Transplant

  • Discuss the multiple uses of “transplant” in this story.

  • 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 Nguyen trying to convey about false identities?

I'd Love You to Want Me

  • Why is the wife known only as Mrs. Khanh; we're not given her first name. Why is that?

  • How do memories of the family's escape from Vietnam affect Mrs. Khanh, even years later?

  • In what way is Mrs. Khanh a refugee in her marriage?

  • 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.

The Americans

  • Why is this story, about an American-born man and his daughter, included in a collection about Vietnamese refugees who have settled in America? Who is the refugee in the story?

  • How differently do James Carver and his daughter Claire view Vietnam? What has made James so angry; what is he angry about? What does James come to realize by the end, and why does he cry?

  • The daughter feels she has to “correct” being an American. Discuss what she means by that.

Someone Else Besides You

  • Do Sam and his ex-wife have any future together? Is this their final goodbye?

  • What is the significance of the title? To whom does it refer?

  • Thomas’ father had affairs with women other than his mother. Why is he so intent on Thomas reuniting with Sam?

  • 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?


  • Why do you think Vivian told Phuong the truth about her life in America?

  • Later, Phuong studies one of the photos she took of Vivien and her father; she is certain that her father prefers Vivien over his other children. Why does she think so? Do you think she is correct?

  • 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.

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