Pulitzer-Prize–winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen chose to tell the story of Vietnamese refugees and the Vietnamese diaspora in general through a series of vignettes. These vignettes or short stories offer different perspectives from Vietnamese immigrants and Vietnamese Americans.
Viet Thanh Nguyen also presents various aspects of Vietnamese culture, such as folklore, to a primarily Western audience. The author tells his stories from the viewpoints of war refugees in Vietnam before coming to the United States, as well as from the viewpoints of those who have already settled in the United States post-war.
These fragments of narratives give the reader a holistic view of the Vietnamese refugee experience. In the context of war trauma, the stories and experiences of the Vietnamese diaspora are all rooted, at differing levels, in the Vietnam War and its aftermath.
Even the stories that touch on more intimate topics, such as marriage, are symbolic of the war experience. Many of the characters in the stories are haunted by the past, which is what many refugees have to overcome in order to move on with their lives.
Memory has become a double-edged sword for the first wave of Vietnamese refugees in the United States: they recall fond memories of home, which helps them with homesickness in America, but they also remember traumatic events of violence and displacement. The stories show that war can affect generations and not just the people who directly experienced it.