The Refugees

by

Viet Thanh Nguyen

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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. But perhaps most startlingly to Mrs. Khanh, he calls her by the wrong name—Yen—increasingly frequently over the course of the story. This causes Mrs. Khanh to worry that he might be in love with someone else, or that he had a relationship with someone else in the past. Initially, Mrs. Khanh holds on to some of her independence, refusing to give up her job as a librarian despite her son’s Vinh’s pleas that she stay home and take care of her husband. She also corrects her husband when he calls her Yen, but eventually, Mrs. Khanh realizes that the only way in which she can help her husband retain his sanity is through a great deal of personal sacrifice. She essentially turns herself into a ghost, quitting her job at the library, going out less and less, and calling herself Yen when the professor doesn’t recognize who she is.

Mrs. Khanh Quotes in The Refugees

The The Refugees quotes below are all either spoken by Mrs. Khanh or refer to Mrs. Khanh. 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.
I’d Love You To Want Me Quotes

That was true love, she thought, not giving roses but going to work every day and never once complaining about teaching Vietnamese to so-called heritage learners, immigrant and refugee students who already knew the language but merely wanted an easy grade.

Page Number: 113
Explanation and Analysis:

“Who are you?” he cried, raising his hand as if to ward off a blow. […]

“It’s just me,” she said. “It’s Yen.”

Related Characters: Mrs. Khanh (speaker), Professor Khanh/The Professor (speaker)
Page Number: 124
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Refugees LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Refugees PDF

Mrs. Khanh Character Timeline in The Refugees

The timeline below shows where the character Mrs. Khanh appears in The Refugees. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
I’d Love You To Want Me
Intimacy and Isolation Theme Icon
Mrs. Khan h and her husband, Professor Khanh, are at a wedding banquet. They had attended many... (full context)
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
Intimacy and Isolation Theme Icon
Mrs. Khan h tells the professor that the couple is honeymooning in Paris and the French Riviera.... (full context)
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
Intimacy and Isolation Theme Icon
...up to dance, saying “You always insisted we dance when you heard this song, Yen.” Mrs. Khan h hides her surprise at being called by a name that is not hers. She... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
...work in oceanography and settled for teaching Vietnamese. When he realizes his mistake, he asks Mrs. Khan h why she didn’t tell him they were going the wrong way. Mrs. Khanh had... (full context)
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
The next morning, Mrs. Khan h tells the professor about the previous night’s events, as he had asked her to... (full context)
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
Intimacy and Isolation Theme Icon
The professor and Mrs. Khan h’s son Vinh arrives, fresh from his graveyard shift at the hospital. He has brought... (full context)
Cultural Identity and Family Theme Icon
When Vinh tells Mrs. Khan h to be reasonable, she can’t help but think of him as an irresponsible teenager,... (full context)
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
Vinh continues to argue that Mrs. Khan h doesn’t need the money, but that the professor needs her at home. He points... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Intimacy and Isolation Theme Icon
Not long after this visit, the professor and Mrs. Khan h stop attending Sunday mass and gradually see less and less of their friends. The... (full context)
Intimacy and Isolation Theme Icon
At home, Mrs. Khan h continues to make the home easier for the professor to navigate. She tapes out... (full context)
Intimacy and Isolation Theme Icon
For Mrs. Khan , the most disturbing problem is when the professor comes home as a stranger. One... (full context)
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
Intimacy and Isolation Theme Icon
That evening for dinner, Mrs. Khan h and the professor talk about the postcard they received from their eldest daughter, who... (full context)
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
That evening, Mrs. Khan h goes to the professor’s library, which is filled with hundreds of books. He cultivated... (full context)
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
Over the next few days and weeks, the professor calls Mrs. Khan h “Yen” again and again. Mrs. Khanh is consumed with curiosity about this woman. She... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
One day, Mrs. Khan h finds the professor in the bathroom, naked from the waist down and furiously scrubbing... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
Nor had the professor yelled at Mrs. Khan h when they were lost at sea with their children, huddled together on a refugee... (full context)
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
The professor and Mrs. Khan h had never spoken of this incident at sea, even though he spoke of many... (full context)
Intimacy and Isolation Theme Icon
Mrs. Khan h speaks to Vinh over the phone. She is more forthcoming with him about the... (full context)
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
Months pass. Mrs. Khan h follows the professor on his walks, discreetly staying at a distance of ten or... (full context)
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
Intimacy and Isolation Theme Icon
The professor starts to talk about how, when he and Mrs. Khan h had visited their home in Vietnam, a night masseur biked past, and they had... (full context)
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
Mrs. Khan h tells the professor that Yen is not her name—her name is Sa. The professor... (full context)
Intimacy and Isolation Theme Icon
The librarians throw Mrs. Khan h a farewell party for her last day of work and give her a box... (full context)
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
Intimacy and Isolation Theme Icon
Mrs. Khan h returns home after dark. She smells gas; a kettle is on the stove but... (full context)