The Refugees


Viet Thanh Nguyen

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The Ghostwriter

The unnamed narrator of “Black-Eyed Women.” The ghostwriter is plagued by the trauma she experienced as a thirteen-year-old while fleeing Vietnam on a refugee boat with the ghostwriter’s mother, the ghostwriter’s father, and… read analysis of The Ghostwriter


The main character of “The Other Man.” Liem is an eighteen-year-old Vietnamese refugee whose story begins when he is placed with a host in San Francisco. He had left his family a few years prior… read analysis of Liem

The Boy

The narrator of “War Years.” The boy, the boy’s mother, and the boy’s father live in a Vietnamese community in San Jose, California. They had fled Vietnam when the boy was very small, and… read analysis of The Boy

Arthur Arellano

The main character of “The Transplant.” Arthur is a middle-aged man with a gambling addiction. As a result of this addiction, he had lost his home in a bet, and subsequently he separated from his… read analysis of Arthur Arellano

Mrs. Khanh

The main character of “I’d Love You to Want Me.” Mrs. Khanh’s story centers around her husband, Professor Khanh. The professor, who likely has Alzheimer’s disease, realizes that he is slowly losing his mind… read analysis of Mrs. Khanh
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James Carver

The main character of “The Americans.” James is an African-American Vietnam War veteran who flew a B-52 (a plane that drops bombs). Carver and his wife, Michiko, go to visit their daughter Claireread analysis of James Carver


the narrator of “Someone Else Besides You.” Thomas and his ex-wife, Sam, had gotten divorced because Sam had wanted a child and Thomas was unsure of whether he could be a good father. His… read analysis of Thomas


the main character of “Fatherland.” Phuong’s father, Mr. Ly, had one set of three children prior to the Vietnam War with the first Mrs. Ly, and then had had a second set of… read analysis of Phuong


Carver and Michiko’s daughter in “The Americans.” As the daughter of an African-American man and a Japanese woman, growing up Claire never felt at home in America, as peers and strangers alike would ask about… read analysis of Claire


Phuong’s older sister in “Fatherland.” Vivien’s name is also Phuong, but she goes by Vivien—a symbol of her Americanness. Vivien arrives in Vietnam like a movie star, with big sunglasses, makeup, and crimson luggage… read analysis of Vivien

The Ghostwriter’s Brother

In “Black-Eyed Women,” the ghostwriter’s brother appears mostly as a literal ghost, after having been killed at age fifteen while trying to flee Vietnam on a boat. He and the ghostwriter had been very close… read analysis of The Ghostwriter’s Brother

The Boy’s Mother

The mother of the boy who narrates “War Years.” She had fled Vietnam with the boy’s father and the boy after the Communists had seized her husband’s auto parts store. She now owns a grocery… read analysis of The Boy’s Mother

Professor Khanh/The Professor

Mrs. Khanh’s husband in “I’d Love You to Want Me.” The professor and Mrs. Khanh came to the United States via a refugee boat with their children. The professor, whose work was in oceanography… read analysis of Professor Khanh/The Professor

The Ghostwriter’s Mother

The mother of the ghostwriter in “Black-Eyed Women.” Following the ghostwriter’s father’s death, the ghostwriter’s mother moved in with the ghostwriter. Like the ghostwriter, she has been heavily traumatized by her experience as a refugee… read analysis of The Ghostwriter’s Mother

Louis Vu

Arthur’s friend in “The Transplant.” Louis is Chinese, but he spent most of his life in Vietnam before moving to the United States. He sells counterfeit brand-name products. Louis tells Arthur that he is… read analysis of Louis Vu


Arthur’s wife in “The Transplant.” Prior to the beginning of the story, Arthur had lost their house in a gamble and subsequently Norma had left him. But when she hears of Arthur’s diagnosis of… read analysis of Norma

Marcus Chan

One of the two men who serve as Liem’s hosts in “The Other Man,” along with Parrish Coyne. Marcus is from Hong Kong, is in his early twenties, is finishing college, and is… read analysis of Marcus Chan

Mr. P.

Thomas’s father in “Someone Else Besides You.” Mr. P. had served in the army in Vietnam before fleeing to the United States and had subsequently treated his children like his own personal army. He… read analysis of Mr. P.


Thomas’s ex-wife in “Someone Else Besides You.” Sam is a high school geometry teacher and is both kind and patient. She had waited many years to have a child with Thomas, who was always… read analysis of Sam

Mr. Ly

Phuong’s father in “Fatherland.” Mr. Ly had one set of three children prior to the Vietnam War with the first Mrs. Ly, and then had had a second set of three children after… read analysis of Mr. Ly

Martín Arellano

Arthur’s younger brother in “The Transplant.” Arthur and Martín have a difficult relationship, because their father had left the family landscaping business, Arellano & Sons, only to Martín when he realized that Arthur is… read analysis of Martín Arellano

Mrs. Hoa

A neighbor of the boy, the boy’s mother, and the boy’s father in “War Years.” She asks people in the neighborhood, including the boy’s family, for money to support a South Vietnamese guerilla… read analysis of Mrs. Hoa

The boy’s father

The father of the boy who narrates “War Years.” He had fled Vietnam with the boy’s mother and the boy after the Communists had seized his auto parts store. He now owns a grocery store… read analysis of The boy’s father

Parrish Coyne

One of the two men who serve as Liem’s hosts in “The Other Man.” Liem’s other host is Marcus Chan, with whom Parrish is in a romantic relationship. Parish is middle-aged, British, and… read analysis of Parrish Coyne

Victor Devoto

A client of the ghostwriter’s in “Black-Eyed Women.” Victor is the only survivor of a plane crash, in which he had lost his wife and children. The ghostwriter helps him to write his memoir… read analysis of Victor Devoto
Minor Characters
Khoi Legaspi
Claire’s boyfriend in “The Americans.” Legaspi is working on a robot that can improve the de-mining effort in Vietnam, making it safer and more cost-effective. Carver critiques Legaspi’s naïveté, arguing that the department of defense can use it for less humanitarian purposes.
The Ghostwriter’s Father
The father of the ghostwriter in “Black-Eyed Women.” He was drafted and fought in the war before fleeing with his wife (the ghostwriter’s mother), his son (the ghostwriter’s brother), and the ghostwriter. He died a few years prior to the beginning of the narrative.
Carver’s wife and Claire’s mother in “The Americans.” Michiko is Japanese, but she does not appear to feel the same frustration with Claire as her husband does when Claire says that she feels more at home in Vietnam than she does in America.
Mrs. Khanh and Professor Khanh’s son in “I’d Love You to Want Me.” He suggests that his mother quit her job at the library in order to spend more time taking care of the professor.
Thomas’s mother
The mother of Thomas, the narrator of “Someone Else Besides You,” and the wife of Mr. P. Thomas’s mother dies of an aneurysm before the story begins.
Men Vu
The organ donor who provides Arthur with a new liver in “The Transplant” after he was killed by a hit-and-run. Louis Vu pretends to be Men’s son, but Men’s actual son is Minh Vu.
The first Mrs. Ly/Vivien’s mother
Mr. Ly’s first wife and the mother of Vivien in “Fatherland.”
Phuong’s mother
Mr. Ly’s second wife and the mother of Phuong in “Fatherland.”
Mr. P.’s girlfriend in “Someone Else Besides You.”
Minh Vu
Men Vu’s son in “The Transplant.”
James Carver's son in "The Americans." William has become a pilot, just as Carver once was, though William is unhappy and bored because he is flying a refueling plane rather than a fighter.