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Viet Thanh Nguyen


Viet Thanh Nguyen is a Vietnamese-American Pulitzer Prize winning novelist. His latest short story collection, The Refugees, will be published in February

These five short stories have stayed in my memory because they moved me deeply, and because I admire their artistry:

  • · Sherman Alexie’s This is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona made me want to write short stories. The story about two boys on a mission to recover the remains of the father of one of them expresses both humour and sadness in sparse, understated prose.

    · Junot Díaz’s Drown introduced me to his distinctive voice and the character of Yunior, a boy learning to become a man, trying to be tough, but unable to hide his vulnerability. Yunior has lived through three books now, and is one of the most memorable characters in contemporary American literature.

    · Edward P Jones’s The Girl Who Raised Pigeons comes from my favourite short story collection of all, Lost in the City. Like all great collections, the sum is greater than its parts. This part was the best of them, about a father’s tender relationship with his daughter, who keeps pigeons that symbolise her own aspirations to fly away.

    · Maxine Hong Kingston’s No Name Woman is a chapter from her book The Woman Warrior, but it can stand alone as a story. The first line is “‘You must not tell anyone,’ my mother said, ‘what I am about to tell you,’” an injunction violated in speaking about it. Telling what must not be told is one of the writer’s most important tasks, and it is, Kingston shows, a dangerous one.

    · Alice Munro’s The Bear Came Over the Mountain is about a man losing his wife to Alzheimer’s, told through a story whose unexpected turns are absolutely convincing. Like her best stories, this one left me befuddled at how Munro managed to compress a life into such a short space.

    The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen (Corsair £12.99) is out February 7; vietnguyen.info