The Refugees

by Viet Thanh Nguyen

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What occurred when Josef's mother went to fetch medicine for his father in The Refugees?

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Josef's father, deeply traumatized by his experiences in a Nazi concentration camp, is going out of his mind as he and his family remain stuck aboard ship outside Havana harbor. Josef's petrified that what happened to him back in Germany will happen again. Unable to face the prospect of more brutal imprisonment, he deteriorates psychologically, displaying increasingly irrational behavior the longer the ship is held in quarantine.

In a fit of panic, he trashes his cabin, just after it had been put back together again after the stewards had wrecked it. Understandably concerned, his wife—Josef's mother—goes to the doctor to get some sleeping medication for her husband. But when she gets there, the doctor makes her take the powerful medication right there and then. When she returns, she's feeling very groggy and soon falls asleep, as indeed does her husband, but not before relating the nightmare experiences he endured in a Nazi concentration camp.

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