"I was once a refugee, although no one would mistake me for being a refugee now. Because of this, I insist on being called a refugee, since the temptation to pretend that I am not a refugee is strong."
"We were the ones who dressed a little differently and carried our lunches in repurposed plastic shopping bags that could never be tied tightly enough to contain the unfamiliar aromas from our home kitchens. You would have found us tagging along with our parents for parent-teacher meetings to help translate and working at our family-run businesses on the weekends. We stood out and were each vulnerable in our own way."
"For four years, [my father’s] family lived deep inside Russia, a time characterized by constant hunger. It stayed with him for the rest of his life. If food was ever left out, he ate it. I sometimes came into the kitchen to find him eating butter."
"More than one hundred policemen lined the roads along our house that night; they shut the streetlights and waited on the dark pavements, some of them in sniper positions in the nearby banyan trees, for my father to come home."
"What is certain. . . is that the men and women who make this country work, who build the houses and pave the roads, who clean the houses and cook the meals and care for the children, coming from every one of our twenty-one Latin American republics and meeting only here in los Estados Unidos de América, what I can unequivocally declare is that they are not going away."
"It doesn’t matter whether you were a physician in Bosnia or a goat herder in the Congo: what matters is that a thousand little anchors once moored you to the world. Becoming a refugee means watching as those anchors are severed, one by one, until at last you’re floating outside of society, an untethered phantom in need of a new life."
"One of my father’s greatest gifts to me, and indirectly to his grandchildren, is this: His decision to immigrate has allowed me to be the parent he could never be. Unlike him, I will never be a stranger to my children. I now get to be the parent who stays."
"I think of all the routes of emigration taken by refugees like us, routes that have been carved into memory, into family stories. Along these paths are friends lost, debts that can never be repaid, kindnesses that can’t possibly be returned, promises and hopes broken, slights and affronts that are hard to forget or say aloud, places of refuge filled with people who bravely come together from all corners, moving from place to place, looking for safety, for community, for home."
"The recent upsurge in bigotry directed at migrants and refugees is predictably contingent upon their dehumanization and deindividualization—they are presented and thought of as a mass of nothings and nobodies, driven, much like zombies, by an incomprehensible, endless hunger for what ‘we’ possess, for ‘our’ life. But each person, each family, has their own history, their own set of stories."
"The overwhelming majority of people fleeing oppressive regimes, like Syria, the way we did from the Soviets, want what we wanted: freedom, security, peace, quiet, shelter, food, decent work, education, a new language, a new way of seeing things, and hope, hope, hope."
"You realize every day is a lesson in America, the real America, the violent one that never protected you. You remember blonde Angela with the cantaloupe glistening in her laughing mouth and you think for the first time she was maybe laughing at you. Why would you think you’d get anywhere here?"
"Places with the lowest number of migrants and refugees, like Wales and Cornwall, also recorded the highest anti-immigrant sentiment. Of course they probably had seen refugees—people like myself, not the huddled desperate dangerous characters who were portrayed in the popular media."
"The journey is designed to test the body’s resilience. Its intent is to break a human being and rearrange them inside. Every inch forward is a reminder of one’s frailty. You do not arrive the same as when you left."
"It is the obligation of every person born in a safer room to open the door when someone in danger knocks. It is your duty to answer us, even if we don’t give you sugary success stories. Even if we remain a bunch of ordinary Iranians, sometimes bitter or confused. Even if the country gets overcrowded and you have to give up your luxuries, and we set up ugly little lives around the corner, marring your view."
"For those who can never quite accept her, a refugee is like a ghost. To them, she’s come from another world, an obscure and incomprehensible world, and now resides in the shadows of this one—an alien entity, an intruder."
"I am ever working, overworking, because I’m aware of the potential, as a non-white body and passport holder from ‘Africa,’ without the safety of ‘being at home,’ of my easy disposal from the political imagination of the world. The suffering of non-white bodies is so naturalized, so overwhelming, and so ordinary that it ceases to be exceptional."
"They had been mere children before the meal, playing a game I was not particularly interested in, but after that morning glory meal, they became the warriors of my childhood in Ban Vinai Refugee Camp. Long before we left that dry, dusty, hungry place, it was they who taught us how to venture beyond our captivity."
Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Sympathizer Viet Thanh Nguyen called on 17 fellow refugee writers from across the globe to shed light on their experiences, and the result is The Displaced, a powerful dispatch from the individual lives behind current headlines, with proceeds to support the International Rescue Committee (IRC).
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Today the world faces an enormous refugee crisis: 68.5 million people fleeing persecution and conflict from Myanmar to South Sudan and Syria, a figure worse than flight of Jewish and other Europeans during World War II and beyond anything the world has seen in this generation. Yet in the United States, United Kingdom, and other countries with the means to welcome refugees, anti-immigration politics and fear seem poised to shut the door. Even for readers seeking to help, the sheer scale of the problem renders the experience of refugees hard to comprehend.
Viet Nguyen, called “one of our great chroniclers of displacement” (Joyce Carol Oates, The New Yorker), brings together writers originally from Mexico, Bosnia, Iran, Afghanistan, Soviet Ukraine, Hungary, Chile, Ethiopia, and others to make their stories heard. They are formidable in their own right—MacArthur Genius grant recipients, National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award finalists, filmmakers, speakers, lawyers, professors, and New Yorker contributors—and they are all refugees, many as children arriving in London and Toronto, Oklahoma and Minnesota, South Africa and Germany. Their 17 contributions are as diverse as their own lives have been, and yet hold just as many themes in common.
Reyna Grande questions the line between “official” refugee and “illegal” immigrant, chronicling the disintegration of the family forced to leave her behind; Fatima Bhutto visits Alejandro Iñárritu’s virtual reality border crossing installation “Flesh and Sand”; Aleksandar Hemon recounts a gay Bosnian’s answer to his question, “How did you get here?”; Thi Bui offers two uniquely striking graphic panels; David Bezmozgis writes about uncovering new details about his past and attending a hearing for a new refugee; and Hmong writer Kao Kalia Yang recalls the courage of children in a camp in Thailand.
These essays reveal moments of uncertainty, resilience in the face of trauma, and a reimagining of identity, forming a compelling look at what it means to be forced to leave home and find a place of refuge. The Displaced is also a commitment: ABRAMS will donate 10 percent of the cover price of this book, a minimum of $25,000 annually, to the International Rescue Committee, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing humanitarian aid, relief, and resettlement to refugees and other victims of oppression or violent conflict.
LIST OF CONTRIBUTORS:
Novuyo Rosa Tshuma
Kao Kalia Yang
Pulitzer Prize–winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen, the editor of The Displaced, brings together a host of prominent refugee writers including Thi Bui and Joseph Azam to explore and illuminate the refugee experience. This panel, a part of BookCon, was moderated by Ingrid Rojas Contreras.
"The book is being published at a time when discourse around refugees has shifted distressingly in the Trump era, with new caps on refugee settlement being instituted and immigration bans remaining clear policy positions.”
— Entertainment Weekly
“In this collection of 17 essays (one consisting of cartoons) by writers who were forced to leave their homes, Viet Thanh Nguyen, a Pulitzer-winning novelist and himself a Vietnamese refugee to America, begins to assemble one. In so doing he gives ordinary Westerners a heart-wrenching insight into the uprooted lives led in their midst…the collection succeeds in demonstrating that this dispersed community in some ways resembles other nations. It has its founding myths, but its citizens all have their own tragedies, victories and pain—and each has a story to tell.”
“…an incisive and heartbreaking exploration of the refugee crisis…”
“With more than a dozen essays on refugees from writers throughout the world, the collection—edited by Nguyen—attempts a vital task: to give voice to the oft-silenced and to redirect the current stream of anti-refugee rhetoric and sentiment in a more just and humanizing direction. The end result is an accessible and engaging dialogue that mines memories, many of them traumatic, and delivers on its global message of displacement and loss... it goes without saying that Nguyen’s collection, with its unapologetic repositioning of the refugee front and center, couldn’t have arrived at a more critical time.”
—The Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Together, the stories share similar threads of loss and adjustment, of the confusion of identity, of wounds that heal and those that don’t, of the scars that remain.“
—The San Francisco Chronicle
“Powerful and deeply moving personal stories about the physical and emotional toll one endures when forced out of one’s homeland.”
“Poignant and timely, these essays ask us to live with our eyes wide open during a time of geo-political crisis. Also, 10% of the cover price of the book will be donated annually to the International Rescue Committee, so I hope readers will help support this book and the vast range of voices that fill its pages.”
“Each essay is worthwhile.”
“In a decade characterized by massive global displacement that seems likely to grow worse, this collection is both a reminder of the lives altered or destroyed by geopolitical happenings, and a gesture of aid.”
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Viet Thanh Nguyen was born in Vietnam in 1971. After the fall of Saigon in 1975, he and his family fled to the United States. The author of three books, Nguyen is the Aerol Arnold Chair of English and Professor of English and American Studies and Ethnicity at University of Southern California. He lives in Los Angeles.