Book Review: THE DISPLACED, edited by Viet Thanh Nguyen

The first of an occasional series, wherein one of our cherished staff members shares their thoughts about a book they've read (and which - of course - you can find on our shelves.) For our inaugural post, Travis McGuire writes about a searing, beautiful, and important prose collection.

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Refugees. The very word may conjure something different for me, you or your neighbors. But in The Displaced we are reminded that refugees are more than just a word - they are people. Brave, brave people whose journeys are rife with tragedy and happiness. These are emotional stories, empowering in what a person can withstand. The Displaced is filled with tragedy and death, night border crossings, emotional and physical abuse and reflections from refugees on what that means.

Viet Thanh Nguyen (2016 Pulitzer Prize Winner for Fiction) brings us this very special collection of essays from refugees around the world. It offers a glimpse of what it’s like for refugees young and old to try to assimilate into a different culture. Their stories briefly become ours as the prose draws you in; feeling their physical and emotional pain, seeing through their eyes the savage ways that places of refuge (mostly the United States) treated them and tried to strip them of their identity, pressuring them to feel grateful for allowing them to exist in a place of asylum.

As an American, it can be a difficult collection to read. As a fellow human, it can be a difficult collection to read. But it is no less rewarding, and indeed this difficulty is part of the point in The Displaced. Through this discomfort we can learn empathy, humility and acceptance. At the very least it can remind us that we are a stronger and more beautiful country when we accept refugees and their cultures.

The Displaced is a fabulous collection for those who enjoy harrowing tales and for those who are ever-curious about the lives of others. It is for the sensitive and compassionate mind. But ultimately it is a collection each of us should read to understand what it means to be a refugee.