The Refugees

by

Viet Thanh Nguyen

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The Ghostwriter’s Brother Character Analysis

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 as children, only two years apart. They would play together in the bomb shelter the ghostwriter’s father had built. When the family tried to escape to America, pirates had invaded their boat. The ghostwriter’s brother had tried to disguise the ghostwriter as a boy so that she would not be kidnapped by the pirates, but one of them discovered the ruse. The ghostwriter’s brother tried to protect her, but was knocked dead by the butt of the pirate’s rifle, and the ghostwriter was then raped as a result. She is haunted by the death of her brother, constantly questioning why it was that she lived and he died, but she is even more haunted by the possibilities that they lost—by the years that they would never have together.

The Ghostwriter’s Brother Quotes in The Refugees

The The Refugees quotes below are all either spoken by The Ghostwriter’s Brother or refer to The Ghostwriter’s Brother. 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’s Brother Character Timeline in The Refugees

The timeline below shows where the character The Ghostwriter’s Brother appears in The Refugees. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Black-Eyed Women
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
...mother wakes her before dawn and tells her not to be afraid: the ghostwriter’s dead brother has come to see them. The ghostwriter’s mother leads her into the hall. There is... (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 says that her brother looks exactly the same as when they last saw him.... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
...he had built a bomb shelter next to their home. The ghostwriter and the ghostwriter’s brother had gone to play in it as small children. When they were older, they would... (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 the war, her bother would tell her ghost... (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 door, but... (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 bony arms... (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 ghostwriter’s mother can also see him. When they return,... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
...won’t leave the house or know what to say. Her mother comments that the ghostwriter’s brother would have known what to do, because “that’s what sons are for.” (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Cultural Identity and Family Theme Icon
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
...write. Plagued by the ghostwriter’s mother’s words, she wonders why she lived and the ghostwriter’s brother died. As she starts to think back to the day of his death, she hears... (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. He was fifteen; she... (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 confiscated all valuables and... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
...to leave glanced at the ghostwriter, commenting that she was “a handsome boy.” The ghostwriter’s brother then stabbed the pirate, and the pirate drew his machine gun and swung it against... (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 says yes. The pirate had thrown her to... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
...believe in.” She didn’t understand statement at the time, but does now. With the ghostwriter’s brother by her side, she weeps for the years they didn’t have together, for all of... (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 had said what he needed to. The ghostwriter implies... (full context)