Register Book Club: Author Viet Thanh Nguyen says he had to share his family’s painful tales

SANTA ANA – Refugees and the need to tell their stories were discussed Tuesday night at a Register Book Club event.

The gathering featured author Viet Thanh Nguyen and raised more than $1,300, which will benefit event host The Frida Cinema and the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center, both nonprofits.

Nguyen told the more than 150 people at The Frida Cinema that his writing was created out of his need to share his experiences as a refugee and dealing with adjusting to his American life while not forgetting his past. His family fled Vietnam when he was 4 years old.

“Hearing these stories from my family members it was all painful,” he said. “From an early age I knew: ‘I need to do something about this. I need to write stories about this.’”

Nguyen’s 2015 breakout novel “The Sympathizer” 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 and his newest release “The Refugees” has already generated praise and buzz.

In “The Sympathizer,” Nguyen, 45, shares the story of a communist, half-French and half-Vietnamese army captain and spy who arranges to move to United States after the fall of Saigon. While building a life in Los Angeles with other refugees, he’s secretly reporting information back to his communist colleagues in Vietnam.

The author fielded questions from audience members that ranged from topics of the current political climate to his adjustment to life in the United States in the 1970s.

Event goers were regaled with Nguyen’s stories of his childhood and how his decades-long writing process led to the publication of his books.

“I just want to thank you,” Gisele Nguyen said as she broke down in tears. As a Vietnamese American she said she had been waiting for a voice like Nguyen’s to identify with.

She left Vietnam at 5 years old and said she and the author shared many of the same…

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