The Refugees

by

Viet Thanh Nguyen

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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. Throughout her stay, Vivien lives up to Phuong’s belief that she is more blessed, taking her entire family out to an expensive restaurant and giving them all gifts. It is also clear to Phuong that their father, Mr. Ly, loves Vivien more than he loves Phuong. Vivien and Phuong become close on her trip, but ultimately Vivien reveals that she has been lying about her job and her success. She is not a pediatrician, but is an unemployed receptionist with a lot of credit card debt. When she tells Phuong that she is unable to sponsor her to come to America, Phuong realizes that she does not need to aspire to be her sister, but instead aspires to be something even more.

Vivien Quotes in The Refugees

The The Refugees quotes below are all either spoken by Vivien or refer to Vivien. 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.
Fatherland Quotes

He often compared Phuong with her absent sister, which had cultivated in Phuong a sense of yearning for Vivien but also some undeniable jealousy.

Related Characters: Phuong, Vivien, Mr. Ly
Page Number: 187
Explanation and Analysis:

We’re all the same to them, Phuong understood with a mix of anger and shame—small, charming, and forgettable.

Related Characters: Phuong, Vivien, Mr. Ly
Page Number: 193
Explanation and Analysis:

In the Ice Lantern’s glow, her sister’s face looked more like her father’s than her own, the symmetry rendering clear what Phuong could now say. Their father loved Vivien more than her.

The photograph ignited easily when Phuong lit it with a match.

Related Characters: Phuong, Vivien, Mr. Ly
Related Symbols: Photos
Page Number: 207
Explanation and Analysis:
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Vivien Character Timeline in The Refugees

The timeline below shows where the character Vivien appears in The Refugees. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Fatherland
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
...letters and photos over the years from America, and the first Phuong (who goes by Vivien) seems much more beautiful and more accomplished, as the letters say that she is a... (full context)
Cultural Identity and Family Theme Icon
The children had never written them letters, however, until Mr. Ly receives a letter from Vivien. Phuong thinks that she must have taken her name from Vivien Leigh, star of Gone... (full context)
Cultural Identity and Family Theme Icon
When Vivien arrives, she is wearing enormous sunglasses, glossy lipstick, and has crimson luggage. Phuong is thrilled... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Cultural Identity and Family Theme Icon
When Vivien takes the family out to dinner at Nam Kha, however, she is clearly more in... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
...had pretended not to be a hostess but instead a model, or a starlet, or Vivien. She never knew what she really looked like, however—no one ever sent her the pictures. (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
When Vivien had arrived, she carried an itinerary of sights she wanted to see. Mr. Ly, who... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
Mr. Ly often compared Phuong with Vivien as she was growing up, which gave her a sense of yearning for her sister... (full context)
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
Vivien, who has been listening intently, asks Mr. Ly why he named his second set of... (full context)
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
...wanted to go, she thinks that it might have been nice to be asked. Yet Vivien doesn’t seem to appreciate her father’s special regard. Instead, as they take the bus to... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Cultural Identity and Family Theme Icon
...and raises his fist, crying “We reunite our country through courage and sacrifice!” Phuong assures Vivien that this is an act, but she also knows that the tourists cannot tell the... (full context)
Cultural Identity and Family Theme Icon
Intimacy and Isolation Theme Icon
On Vivien’s penultimate evening in Saigon, she and Mr. Ly drink four flasks of milky rice wine... (full context)
Cultural Identity and Family Theme Icon
Intimacy and Isolation Theme Icon
Phuong puts her pajamas back on and she and Vivien lie in bed together. Vivien says that she wants to tell Phuong a secret: that... (full context)
Cultural Identity and Family Theme Icon
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
...the next morning, Mr. Ly takes photos of his children with the disposable camera that Vivien had brought them. They drive the bumper cars before moving on to the Ferris wheel.... (full context)
Cultural Identity and Family Theme Icon
Phuong, who is still wearing the lingerie from the previous evening, tells Vivien that she hasn’t had a boyfriend because doesn’t want anyone holding her back. When Vivien... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Vivien reluctantly confesses that she and Vivien’s mother did not tell the truth about her life.... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Intimacy and Isolation Theme Icon
Vivien starts to cry, saying that when she gets back, she has to put her life... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
A month after Vivien’s visit, the family receives a letter from her with a stack of pictures enclosed. The... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
...ice sculptures of the world’s landmarks. Phuong had taken a picture of Mr. Ly and Vivien, who looked more like her father than her sister. It is clear to Phuong now... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Cultural Identity and Family Theme Icon
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
...until only one is left: a photo of Phuong and her sister at the airport. Vivien is smiling, but Phuong is not. She lights this final photograph and scatters the ashes... (full context)