Viet Thanh Nguyen is on the kind of roll any author might envy. “The Sympathizer,” his 2015 debut novel, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Last year his nonfiction work, “Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War,” was a finalist for the National Book Award.
Now comes a short story collection titled “The Refugees,” which arrived last week to great anticipation, which makes Nguyen, who will be featured in the Register Book Club’s next forum on Tuesday, a very hot writer indeed, though he laughs as he explains that this seeming flurry of rapid activity actually has been gestating for years.
“It’s an illusion because these books were written over 17 or 20 years,” says Nguyen by phone from Washington, D.C., where he was attending a writers conference between stops on his book tour. “They just happen to be coming out at the same time.
“I’d have preferred it had been every five or six years, but there is something to be said for just throwing the books out there all at once to get people’s attention.”
Especially, we suppose, when the attention has been so uniformly positive on the manner in which Nguyen, 45, has artfully presented new stories about the Vietnamese experience, from the war years to the scattering of refugees when it ended in 1975 and tens of thousands – including the 4-year-old future author and his family – were resettled in the United States.
Nguyen’s books touch on the kinds of common human experiences that any immigrant or refugee might go through, which with his own life’s story gives him a particular insight into the current debate over such matters. And their freshness to readers comes partly from the fact that Nguyen’s perspective on Vietnam, the war and the people, represents a shift in perspective from the American observer to the Vietnamese.
“Even before movies, the first thing that I saw that signaled to me that how I thought about Vietnamese people was not the same as how…