The Refugees Characters
The main characters in The Refugees include Liem, James Carver, and Thomas.
- Liem, the protagonist of “The Other Man,” is a young Vietnamese immigrant who moves in with an older gay man and his younger boyfriend in San Francisco in 1975.
James Carver, the protagonist of “The Americans,” is an American Vietnam War veteran who disapproves of his daughter's decision to live and work in Vietnam.
- Phuong, the protagonist of “Fatherland,” is a young Vietnamese woman who is disillusioned by meeting her glamorous older half-sister, who visits from the United States.
Last Updated on January 6, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3387
The Narrator of "Black-Eyed Women"
The unnamed narrator of "Black-Eyed Women" works as a ghostwriter, specializing in memoirs that tell the stories of people who survive horrific and unusual tragedies, like losing their legs in war. Her most recent project was about the sole survivor of a plane crash, a...
(The entire section contains 3387 words.)
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The Narrator of "Black-Eyed Women"
The unnamed narrator of "Black-Eyed Women" works as a ghostwriter, specializing in memoirs that tell the stories of people who survive horrific and unusual tragedies, like losing their legs in war. Her most recent project was about the sole survivor of a plane crash, a man who lost his entire family in the crash. There's a certain irony in the fact that she works as a ghostwriter and also happens to see a ghost. She feels survivor's guilt over the death of her older brother, who was killed while trying to protect her from pirates. Her brother's unexpected return as a ghost allows the narrator to find some resolution after years of struggling with the loss. She then decides to stop ghostwriting and write her own book of modern ghost stories.
When the ghost of the narrator's brother first appears in "Black-Eyed Woman," he's soaking wet and shows himself only to his mother. Later, the mother explains to the narrator that her brother swam across oceans in order to reach them. When he reveals himself to his sister, she offers him some dry clothes. This brings up old memories of his death and how he was killed by pirates while trying to protect his younger sister from being raped. During one of their talks, the narrator asks why he died and she lived. He tells her, "You died too. . . . You just don't know it." This upsets the narrator but eventually leads to a moment of catharsis.
Victor Devoto is the sole survivor of a horrific plane crash in which he lost his wife and child. He hires the narrator of "Black-Eyed-Women" to ghostwrite his memoir. In their phone interviews, it's clear that he is haunted by the plane crash and is struggling to cope with the loss. He can sometimes feel the presence of his lost loved ones and is always listening for the sound of his son's voice. When the narrator asks if Victor is afraid of ghosts, he says, "You aren't afraid of the things you believe in."
Liem, the main character in "The Other Man," is a Vietnamese immigrant who is sponsored by Parrish Coyne, a man who worked for decades as a corporate lawyer. It's October 1975, and Liem is fleeing the communist regime in Vietnam. He left in April, boarding a barge and arriving in Camp Pendleton, San Diego, where he awaited sponsorship. Though grateful to Parrish for giving him a place to live in San Francisco, Liem still becomes infatuated with Marcus, Parrish's lover, and has an affair with him when Parrish is out of town. In falling for Marcus, Liem faces some unexpected truths about his own sexuality and comes to think of the United States as a place where he can shape his own future and identity.
In "The Other Man," Parrish Coyne is a middle-aged British man and former corporate accountant who has lived in San Francisco for years. His live-in-boyfriend, Marcus, relies on him for support, and Parrish pays for Marcus to finish school. Parrish has become deeply involved in politics since leaving his job in corporate finance. It's this political activism that takes him to Washington, D.C., the weekend Liem and Marcus have a sexual encounter. It's implied that Parrish never learns of the affair.
Marcus lives with Parrish in a two-story house in San Francisco's Castro district in "The Other Man." He is younger than his lover by a factor of twenty or more years and relies on Parrish for support. He is also the son of a wealthy rubber manufacturer and, if not for an incident in which a vengeful ex-lover sent an unsolicited letter containing compromising photos to Marcus's father, would be able to pay his own way through school. Consequently, Marcus is the equivalent of a "kept man" and is indebted to Parrish, though that doesn't prevent Marcus from cheating on him. It's unclear whether Parrish and Marcus have an open relationship.
The Narrator of "War Years"
The unnamed narrator is eleven years old when the events of "War Years" take place. He's the child of immigrants and has become Americanized, even though his parents cling to their Vietnamese heritage. The narrator is more interested in comic books and candy than working in the family grocery store.
The Parents of the Narrator of "War Years"
The narrator's parents own and operate a small Vietnamese grocery store called New Saigon. Both of them are devout Catholics and attend church every Sunday morning before going back to work at the store. Within their relationship, the mother is clearly dominant, and the father's opinions are often ignored. Once, back in Vietnam, the mother had to bribe a general's wife in order to save the father from being drafted into the Viet Cong. This is a forbidden subject between them, something best left unspoken, like the incident with Mrs. Hoa.
In "War Years," Mrs. Hoa is a Vietnamese woman in her forties who, like the narrator's parents, immigrated to America to escape the Vietnam War. Mrs. Hoa is fervently anti-communist and is collecting money to send to rebels fighting the communist regime in Vietnam. In some ways, Mrs. Hoa is extorting her community members by demanding funds for what seems to already be a lost cause. When it becomes clear that Mrs. Hoa is traumatized by her experiences in the Vietnam War, however, this extortion is forgiven by the narrator's mother.
Arthur Arellano, the main character in "The Transplant," has an autoimmune disease and a gambling addiction. Prior to his diagnosis, he cashed out his life insurance and gambled it all away all at a casino. This kind of irresponsible behavior led his wife, Norma, to leave him; but after hearing of his diagnosis, she moved back in out of love and fear. When the story opens, Arthur has already had a successful liver transplant and contacted the relatives of his donor, Men Vu. This leads him to Louis Vu, who claims to be Men Vu's son. Out of gratitude, Arthur agrees to house Louis's illegal knock-offs of designer clothes. Only at the end of the story does Arthur learn that Louis is not, in fact, related to Men Vu. However, he can't turn Louis in without being arrested himself, leaving him trapped.
In "The Transplant," Louis Vu claims to be related to Men Vu, Arthur's liver transplant donor, who died in a hit-and-run. In fact, Louis is just pretending to be related to Men in order to take advantage of Arthur, who has a garage where Louis can store his counterfeit goods. At the end of the story, when Arthur confronts him and demands that Louis remove his merchandise from the garage, Louis threatens to take Arthur down with him.
Norma is Arthur's long-suffering wife in "The Transplant." In the course of the narrative, readers learn that she left Arthur, having reached her limits with regard to his gambling addiction, but that she later returned to him after his diagnosis. This doesn't solve the underlying problems in their marriage, however. Norma spurns Arthur's advances and demands that he get rid of Louis's counterfeit goods. In the end, she is once again disappointed by Arthur's irresponsible behavior.
Martín is Arthur's older, more successful brother in "The Transplant." Martín owns a landscaping business powered by the undocumented immigrants he has hired. Arthur knows that Martín has been underpaying the immigrants, using them for cheap labor in order to increase his own profits, but doesn't report Martín.
Men Vu was an elderly widower and grandfather killed in a hit-and-run in "The Transplant." Arthur receives Men Vu's liver. Men's son Minh Vu later contacts Arthur, revealing Louis as a fraud.
In "I'd Love You to Want Me," Mr. Khanh suffers from a progressive illness that affects his memory, likely Alzheimer's disease. During a wedding banquet, he starts calling his wife, Mrs. Khanh, by the wrong name: Yen. He refuses to explain who exactly Yen is, but his comments about her suggest that the two had a romantic relationship at one point. Mr. Khanh keeps a notebook full of the things he has forgotten and been reminded of, including places he has loved and visited. One day, Mrs. Khanh picks up the notebook and finds an entry that reads "Today she insisted I call her by another name. Must keep closer eye on her." This suggests that Mr. Khanh has grown confused and projected his illness on Mrs. Khanh, believing her to be the one suffering from memory loss. When his illness worsens, it becomes clear that Mrs. Khanh must quit her job and hire someone to help care for him properly. Perhaps Mr. Khanh's most charming attribute is that he gives his wife novels, all of which have her name written under the author's in beautiful calligraphy.
Mrs. Khanh spends much of "I'd Love You to Want Me" caring for husband, who is suffering from a disease, likely Alzheimer's, that affects his memory. She's upset when he begins calling her Yen—a name she doesn't recognize. She suspects that Yen was a lover, or perhaps even a second wife of her husband's, but has no way of confirming this, because her husband's illness has stripped him of ready access to his long-term memory. Mrs. Khanh tries on several different occasions to remind her husband of places they've visited and things he likes, but these efforts are in vain, and Mrs. Khanh grows more tired by the day. Though she rebuffs her son's initial suggestion that they hire a caregiver, she later quits her job and admits that she doesn't have the strength to care for Mr. Khanh alone. This disappoints her. She seeks solace in the books her husband has given her over the years—books she has never read but which she intends to enjoy now that she'll be spending more time at home.
Yen appears to be a mysterious woman from Mr. Khanh's past in "I'd Love You to Want Me." She and Mr. Khanh may have been lovers, but this remains unclear.
James Carver, the main character in "The Americans," served as a pilot in the United States military during the 1960s and 1970s. His plane was a B-52 bomber—"an ungainly blue whale of a plane"—and he served several tours of duty in Southeast and East Asia. He met Michiko while visiting Japan one day. Their children, Claire and William, have grown up and left the nest, and at sixty-eight years old, Carver has started to feel his age. Three years prior to the Vietnam trip, Carver fell down the stairs and broke his hip, so now he walks with a cane. He's determined to keep up, however, and this has the unfortunate side effect of making him look like even more of a bitter old man. It's clear, from the way his daughter speaks to him, that she thinks of him as a hard, judgmental man, someone who will never approve of her life choices. In the story's final scene, when Claire helps him to the bathroom in the hospital, his gruff outward demeanor makes it impossible for him to admit that he's crying.
In "The Americans," Michiko is Carver's wife and the mother of their daughter, Claire. Michiko is Japanese and met Carver while he was serving in the military. Other than these basic facts, little is known about Michiko, except that her role appears to be keeping the peace in her family.
In "The Americans," Claire has defied her parents' wishes and moved to Hue, Vietnam, to become an English teacher in a small school. Despite the low pay and long hours, she finds the work rewarding and intends to stay even though her parents ask her to move back home. She's often on the defensive, aware of her father's distaste for her job and her boyfriend, Khoi. She thinks of her father as a bitter old man and often argues with him, but in the end it's clear that she loves him as much as he loves her. In a moment of great tenderness, she helps him to the bathroom during his hospital stay.
Khoi, Claire's boyfriend in "The Americans," was adopted by the Legaspis as a child. He's thinking of getting his doctorate so that he can continue his research into robotics, which has thus far been funded by the Department of Defense. Khoi is young, spry, and desperate to ingratiate himself to Carver, if only because of Claire. Although he falls silent when Carver confronts him about the dangerous implications of his research in modern robotics, Khoi has heard these arguments against his work before, so he doesn't begrudge Carver for raising the issue.
William is Claire's brother and the only son of James and Michiko in "The Americans." He's also a pilot and has served several tours of duty in Afghanistan, where he flies a KC-135—a refueling aircraft that provides bombers with fuel. William likens this to being a "truck driver." Carver says being a truck driver is honorable.
The Narrator of "Someone Else Besides You"
The thirty-three-year-old narrator works both as the customer service manager for a company that sells hearing aids and as a night watchman at a luxury high-rise. His mother has recently died, and his wife divorced him about a year before the events of the story. In spite of the narrator's age, the narrator's father doesn't think of him as a man, primarily because he doesn't have children. For his part, the narrator is afraid of becoming like his father, a philanderer and veteran who used to wake his children up before dawn and make them run drills. In fact, the narrator is so afraid of his father that he refused to have children just so he wouldn't pass down his father's genes. After the divorce, the narrator is sensitive, emotional, and somewhat obsessed with his ex-wife, Sam. He hesitates when his father suggests that they visit Sam but then becomes determined to be the father of Sam's child. This is an unexpected display of courage and indicates a fundamental change in the narrator's character.
The Father of the Narrator of "Someone Else Besides You"
The narrator's father is a hard man in many ways. A former soldier and school guidance counselor, he's used to taking control of other people's lives and making decisions that he thinks will be good for them. He was well respected for this on the battlefield, and many of the students he helped feel indebted to him for their success. Unfortunately, he pushes his children too hard, making them run drills in the morning and expecting them to be masculine. He's critical of the narrator because he feels the narrator has turned out soft, as evidenced by the scene where the narrator breaks down crying in his car. When the narrator doesn't react to the news of Sam's pregnancy, his father throws a rock through the windshield of Sam's car. This sudden act awakens the narrator to his own feelings and inspires him to reconcile with Sam.
In "Someone Else Besides You," Mimi is a fifty-something woman who lives in "a condo complex made to look like a village." She has a perm and likes to wear velour tracksuits, which are fashionable among women her age. Mimi doesn't seem worried about the fact that her boyfriend, the narrator's father, has a history of philandering.
Sam and the narrator of "Someone Else Besides You" were married prior to the events of the story but are divorced by the time the narrative begins. Sam was upfront with the narrator about the fact that she wanted to have his children and was disappointed when he refused. Following their divorce, she visited Vietnam, spending the summer there as a tourist. It's unclear when exactly she became pregnant or who the father is, but there is reason to believe that she's planning to raise the child on her own. She's surprised when the narrator offers to be the child's father but doesn't turn him down.
Phuong, the main character in "Fatherland," is Mr. Ly's second daughter. She was born in Saigon and named after her older sister, who has taken the name Vivien since moving to the United States. Phuong graduated college two years before the events of the story and has been working at a restaurant called Nam Kha since then. She has become obsessed with her father's first family and dreams of being just like her older sister Vivien and moving to America. She and Vivien share a room during the visit, which gives the two sisters a chance to get to know each other. Soon after arriving, Vivien begins confiding in Phuong, telling her secrets like that she was expecting to love her father more than she does. Phuong, in turn, tells Vivien that she wants to move to the United States and become a pediatrician like Viven. She's confused and devastated when Vivien confesses that she isn't really a doctor and her life in America is in shambles. Later, Phoung stares at a picture of Vivien and their father. She burns it, realizing that she should be her own person.
Vivien, a character in "Fatherland," is not what she seems. In the letters her mother wrote to Mr. Ly, Vivien's life sounds perfect: she's said to have gone to medical school, completed her residency, and become a rich, successful, and beautiful doctor. In reality, she's a career receptionist who was fired from her last job after she had an ill-advised affair with her boss. She's using her severance check to fund her trip to Vietnam and buy dinners and presents for her father's family. When she gets back to the United States, she's going to start looking for a job and won't have time for anything else—this is the reason she gives for not wanting Phuong to come live with her in America. Though she does love Phoung and her father, Vivien fears that she doesn't love them quite as much as she should, and this disappoints her.
My. Ly, in "Fatherland," was a victim of Vietnam's New Economic Zones program. Ly was forcibly removed from his home in Saigon and banished to another part of the country for five years. When he was taken, his wife and their three children fled Vietnam, eventually settling in America. Mr. Ly only learned of this after the fact, when it was too late to stop them. Following his return to Saigon, he decided to divorce his wife, married his mistress, and started a new family. For purely sentimental reasons, he named his second set of three children after his first. Ly is proud of all his children but appears to have special affection for those in America, as he laminates their photos and handles them with great care.
The First Mrs. Ly
In "Fatherland," the first Mrs. Ly fled Vietnam when her husband was banished. She settled in America, remarried (but had no other children), and began sending letters to Mr. Ly about their children and her life in the United States. It's unclear why the first Mrs. Ly fills her letters with lies. Perhaps it's shame, or perhaps she wants to make Mr. Ly happy by telling him her life is better than it is. She claims that she and her new husband own a house in the suburbs, but in fact they live in a small condominium, and she doesn't own the Nice Nail Beauty Salon; she merely works in it.
The Second Mrs. Ly
Little is known about the second Mrs. Ly in "Fatherland" other than that she was Mr. Ly's mistress for many years before becoming his second wife. She bore three children for him, which she allowed him to name after his first three children.
Hanh and Phuc
Phuong's brothers in "Fatherland," Hanh and Phuc, were named after Vivien's brothers and are much younger than their sisters. Their role is to provide a little levity, as when they insist that the family play bumper cars.