The Refugees

by

Viet Thanh Nguyen

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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 to work in a tea bar in Saigon in order to send money back to them. After the fall of Saigon in 1975, he clawed his way onto a refugee boat, which transported him to a refugee camp in San Diego. Liem’s host, Parrish Coyne, is an older British man who is in a relationship with a younger man from Hong Kong named Marcus Chan. Liem is shocked and uncomfortable to learn that they are a couple, particularly given his own sexual history with men. Over the course of the story Liem starts to become more and more intimate with Marcus, until by the end of the story they have sex, and Liem tells Marcus that he loves him. Marcus does not return the sentiment, however. Liem’s story is an example of how war can wreak havoc on the lives of individuals, but also how refugees are also simply human beings with a desire and a need for intimacy. Marcus is the first person who really sees Liem as a human being and shares a strong emotional and physical connection with him. But when Marcus is unable to return Liem’s feelings in the same way, Liem feels completely isolated and hopes that he might be able to find someone with whom he can share that love.

Liem Quotes in The Refugees

The The Refugees quotes below are all either spoken by Liem or refer to Liem. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Grove Press edition of The Refugees published in 2017.
The Other Man Quotes

In the darkness, he heard the rustle of mosquito netting as the others masturbated also. The next morning, everyone looked at each other blankly, and nobody spoke of what had occurred the previous evening, as if it were an atrocity in the jungle better left buried.

Related Characters: Liem, Marcus Chan, Parrish Coyne
Page Number: 28-29
Explanation and Analysis:

This summer, your uncles and cousins were reeducated with the other enlisted puppet soldiers. The Party forgave their crimes. Your uncles were so grateful, they donated their houses to the revolution […] The cadres tell us that we will erase the past and rebuild our glorious country!

Related Characters: Liem
Page Number: 45-46
Explanation and Analysis:

Suddenly the man raised his hand, as if to say hello. When his partner looked toward the window as well, Liem waved in return, and for a moment there were only the three of them, sharing a fleeting connection.

Related Characters: Liem
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Refugees LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Refugees PDF

Liem Character Timeline in The Refugees

The timeline below shows where the character Liem appears in The Refugees. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Other Man
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Cultural Identity and Family Theme Icon
Liem, a refugee, arrives at the San Diego airport and meets his sponsor, Parrish Coyne. Parrish... (full context)
Intimacy and Isolation Theme Icon
...Chan, who appears to be in his early twenties, only a few years older than Liem. Liem notices how nice Marcus looks—his straight posture, his white teeth. Liem nervously introduces himself... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
In the car on the way to Parrish’s home, Parrish asks if Liem has had a rough time getting to America. Liem casually responds that it hasn’t been... (full context)
Cultural Identity and Family Theme Icon
Intimacy and Isolation Theme Icon
...Marcus give some introductory information about living in San Francisco before going on to tell Liem that they are a couple. Liem thinks he must be misunderstanding, until he realizes that... (full context)
Intimacy and Isolation Theme Icon
Liem remembers the face of the men he had worked with and known in the tea... (full context)
Cultural Identity and Family Theme Icon
Intimacy and Isolation Theme Icon
...Parrish and Marcus’s home, which is mauve. The woman at the refugee service had warned Liem that people in San Francisco might be “unique,” and for the first few weeks Liem... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Liem thinks about how he hadn’t complained when he had been dispatched alone to Saigon to... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
...the spring of 1975, six months prior, rockets and mortars began exploding over Saigon, and Liem found himself clawing his way aboard a river barge and shipped to Camp Pendleton, San... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Liem doesn’t mention any of this in the letter he writes to his parents from Parrish’s... (full context)
Cultural Identity and Family Theme Icon
Intimacy and Isolation Theme Icon
Despite the fact that Parrish refuses to let him pay rent, Liem finds a job in a liquor store. He runs the shop from 8 a.m. to... (full context)
Intimacy and Isolation Theme Icon
When Liem returns home, he showers off the day’s sweat and tries not to think of Marcus’s... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
A few months into Liem’s stay, Parrish takes a trip to Washington for a conference on nuclear power. Parrish explains... (full context)
Cultural Identity and Family Theme Icon
Intimacy and Isolation Theme Icon
After Liem and Marcus drop Parrish off, they go to Chinatown for food. Marcus explains some of... (full context)
Cultural Identity and Family Theme Icon
Intimacy and Isolation Theme Icon
Liem tells Marcus, in turn, about his own family. In his hometown of Long Xuyen, no... (full context)
Cultural Identity and Family Theme Icon
Intimacy and Isolation Theme Icon
Marcus tells Liem not to dwell on the past: that the best way to help them is to... (full context)
Intimacy and Isolation Theme Icon
The next day at the liquor store, Liem rushes home when his shift ends. He recalls how after he and Marcus had finished... (full context)
Cultural Identity and Family Theme Icon
Intimacy and Isolation Theme Icon
When Liem returns from the liquor store, Marcus presents him with a letter from his family. Liem... (full context)
Intimacy and Isolation Theme Icon
After Liem and Marcus have sex, Liem realizes that things may not have gone well. They did... (full context)
Intimacy and Isolation Theme Icon
Lying in bed, holding Marcus, Liem says, “I love you.” Marcus says nothing, and Liem starts to put his clothes on,... (full context)
Intimacy and Isolation Theme Icon
Marcus and Liem continue to hold each other, until Marcus asks whether Liem is going to read his... (full context)
Cultural Identity and Family Theme Icon
Intimacy and Isolation Theme Icon
After Marcus falls asleep, Liem sneaks out of bed and takes a shower. Parrish calls to check in, and Liem... (full context)
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
Liem sets the letter aside and looks out the window. He sees his reflection and realizes... (full context)
Intimacy and Isolation Theme Icon
Liem stares at them, still half-naked, and the two men turn towards him. One of the... (full context)