These days, when the plight of refugees so often make the news, the Vietnamese diaspora seems to be experiencing a literary renaissance. Foremost is the celebration of Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer, with its deserved Pulitzer Prize for fiction (read my review here).
Alongside Nguyen, we have Nam Le’s collection of stories The Boat, Qui Nguyen’s new play Vietgone, Ocean Vuong’s poetry collection, all appearing in the last year or so. Are there suddenly more assured voices, or is it that the reading public has become more interested in the stories offered by the Vietnamese diaspora?
It might be a combination of both. Narratives written by immigrants have always spoken to the transient lives of people in the world, but it is just now that we see a mature collection of thoughts regarding the people who left Vietnam for even more uncertain lives abroad. The stories of the displaced, or those with multinational identities, are stories that speak to us of these particular times. The first refugees and their children, uprooted by America’s bloodiest war, seem especially able to speak of this displacement, of describing the shifting, tenuous foundations of home, of war’s wounds and shrapnel that rests embedded in the psyches of one’s offspring, years after its conclusion. The more the earth beneath us shifts, the more we listen to such voices.
The recommended works below by writers from the Vietnamese diaspora encompass four major genres: the personal essay, short story, poetry, and play. They all share fragmentation, loss, and a longing for home as recurring themes.