The Refugees

by

Viet Thanh Nguyen

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The Ghostwriter Character Analysis

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 the ghostwriter’s brother. Her brother had tried to disguise her as a boy, so that when pirates raided their boat, she would not be kidnapped like the other girls. When one pirate noticed that she was a girl, her brother had tried to protect her and was killed as a result. The ghostwriter was then raped by several men as her parents watched, unable to help her. Since that episode she has a difficult time going outside; she writes other people’s memoirs (like Victor Devoto’s) in her basement at night and sleeps during the day. She tries to forget this episode as much as she can, but twenty-five years after the day of her brother’s death, her dead brother appears as a ghost in her home. He helps her to heal by allowing her to grieve not only for his death, but also for the fact that she seemed to have died that day, too. She realizes that many people have stories like hers, and when she finishes Victor’s memoir, she resolves to write her own book of ghost stories: stories of the refugees who survived, but still lost so much. Thus, her arc demonstrates the cost of war and of being a refugee on an individual level.

The Ghostwriter Quotes in The Refugees

The The Refugees quotes below are all either spoken by The Ghostwriter or refer to The Ghostwriter. 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.
Black-Eyed Women Quotes

My American adolescence was filled with tales of woe like this, all of them proof of what my mother said, that we did not belong here. In a country where possessions counted for everything, we had no belongings except our stories.

Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:

I wept for him and for me, for all the years we could have had together but didn’t, for all the words never spoken between my mother, my father, and me. Most of all, I cried for those other girls who had vanished and never come back, including myself.

Related Characters: The Ghostwriter (speaker), The Ghostwriter’s Brother
Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:

Stories are just things we fabricate, nothing more. We search for them in a world besides our own, then leave them here to be found, garments shed by ghosts.

Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Ghostwriter Character Timeline in The Refugees

The timeline below shows where the character The Ghostwriter appears in The Refugees. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Black-Eyed Women
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
The ghostwriter describes how her clients come to her: they were often people who had escaped kidnapping... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
The ghostwriter ’s mother says that the ghostwriter should be glad that her name isn’t on her... (full context)
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
The ghostwriter has a new client: Victor Devoto. He was the sole survivor of an airplane crash,... (full context)
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
As the ghostwriter begins to work on Victor’s story, her own story haunts her. One day the ghostwriter’s... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
The ghostwriter explains that ever since the ghostwriter’s father had died, she and the ghostwriter’s mother had... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
The ghostwriter ’s mother recounts this story the morning after she had seen the ghostwriter’s brother. She... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
Looking back, the ghostwriter says, she realizes that their childhood had been spent in a haunted country. The ghostwriter’s... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
When the ghostwriter , the ghostwriter’s mother, and the ghostwriter’s brother had used the bunker in earnest during... (full context)
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
The ghostwriter thinks, then, that it is ironic that she makes a living as a “ghostwriter.” In... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Cultural Identity and Family Theme Icon
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
The ghostwriter flashes back, describing how terrified she, the ghostwriter’s mother, and the ghostwriter’s father were those... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
The evening after the ghostwriter ’s brother’s first visit, knocking wakes the ghostwriter at 6:35pm. She had locked the bedroom... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
Intimacy and Isolation Theme Icon
The ghostwriter ’s brother is a pale fifteen-year-old, in soaked black shorts and a gray T-shirt, with... (full context)
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
The ghostwriter hears her mother returning and tells the ghostwriter’s brother to wait there so that the... (full context)
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
The ghostwriter thinks about how no one she knew believed in ghosts, except for the ghostwriter’s mother... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
One day, on the brink of finishing Victor’s memoir, the ghostwriter and the ghostwriter’s mother watch a Korean soap opera together. Her mother comments that if... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Cultural Identity and Family Theme Icon
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
That night, the ghostwriter returns to the basement to write. Plagued by the ghostwriter’s mother’s words, she wonders why... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
The ghostwriter and the ghostwriter’s brother had been on a refugee boat with a hundred other people.... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
The ghostwriter and the ghostwriter’s brother had then huddled in the dark until the pirates came. They... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
The last pirate to leave glanced at the ghostwriter , commenting that she was “a handsome boy.” The ghostwriter’s brother then stabbed the pirate,... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
Intimacy and Isolation Theme Icon
The ghostwriter asks if it still hurts; the ghostwriter’s brother says no, then returns the question. She... (full context)
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
Intimacy and Isolation Theme Icon
This statement sparks a memory of a conversation the ghostwriter had with Victor. He had said that he believes in ghosts. He sees his wife... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
The ghostwriter had asked Victor if he is afraid of ghosts. He says that “You aren’t afraid... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
When Victor’s memoir is published a few months later, it sells well. The ghostwriter ’s name is not on it, but her reputation grows behind the scenes in publishing.... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
The ghostwriter ’s mother tells the ghostwriter that the ghostwriter’s brother would not be coming back: he... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
Instead, the ghostwriter asks for a story. The ghostwriter’s mother tells a story of a woman whose husband... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
This storytelling becomes a nightly ritual, and the ghostwriter writes all of the stories down. She writes that this is how some of the... (full context)