Refugees (Nguyen) - Discussion Questions

Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, please use our LitLovers talking points to start a discussion for The Refugees…then take off on your own:

1. In most of these stories, the primary characters are refugees from Vietnam to America. One way to discuss them is to ask what other ways it is possible to be a refugee, not only in terms of geography and nationality, but in a more personal way?

1. The unnamed daughter of the story asks us, "Was it ironic, then, that I made a living from being a ghost writer?" Of course it is…but why?

2. When the narrator bemoans the fact that she, not her brother, was the one who got to live, her brother replies, "You died, too. You just don't know it." What does he mean?

3. Do you believe in ghosts?

1.What does the title refer to—what is Liem's plan?

2. What do you think of Marcus? When Liem tells him he was too worried about getting a seat on the crowded bus to tell his parents he loved them, Marcus assures him, "that's all in the past. The best way you can help them now is by helping yourself." Is Marcus correct? Liem thinks his response is a very American way of thinking. Why does he think so? What do you think: is the response from Marcus typically American? If so, is that good or bad?

3. At the story's end, after reading his parents' letter, Liem peers out through the window at two men walking by. What is he thinking? And what is the significance of the fact that after the men had passed, "he was still standing with his hand pressed to the window," wondering if anyone was watching him?

1. The first phrase of the opening sentence recalls the time Mrs. Hoa "broke into our lives." Why "broke"? What does that particular word suggest? Why not the summer that "we met Mrs. Hoa" or that "she came into our lives"?

2. Why does the narrator's mother end up giving Mrs. Hoa money?

1. Talk about the irony of the title and the fact that Arthur received a new kidney from a Vietnamese immigrant?

2. Consider, too, the hundreds of boxes of knock-off merchandise "transplanted" to Arthur's garage.

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

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

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

!. 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?

2. 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?

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

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

1. Why does Vivien misrepresent herself? Had she not confessed to Phuong, would her lies have made any difference; would they have done any harm?

2. Vivien tells Phuong that she lacks respect for their father. Why?

3. 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?

4. Why does Phuong burn the photos at the end? What is the significance of the ashes vanishing into the sky—"an inverted blue bowl of the finest crystal, covering the whole of Saigon as far as her eyes could see"?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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