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Coming to America

First Year Book Examines the Meanings of Exile, Belonging

By Chris Carroll

The Refugees book cover

Cover art and design by Christopher Moisan; photo courtesy of Viet Thanh Nguyen

Cover art and design by Christopher Moisan; photo courtesy of Viet Thanh Nguyen

What does it mean to immigrate to the United States? What does it mean to seek refuge in a strange land?

Such questions are the subject of “The Refugees,” a short story collection by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen chosen as the 2018-19 First Year Book by the Office of Undergraduate Studies.

Each year, the university selects one book for all first-year students, providing an opportunity for the university community to look at a topic, issue or experience from a range of different perspectives. The First Year Book is integrated into courses across disciplines and used as the centerpiece for discussion throughout the academic year.Viet Thanh Nguyen

This year’s book selection is part of the Year of Immigration, a university initiative to increase awareness about immigration, global migration and refugees, and to foster a more diverse and inclusive community.

During the 2018-19 academic year, the university will hold a series of events and initiatives focused on the subjects raised by this book, said William A. Cohen, associate provost and dean for undergraduate studies.

“I look forward to robust discussions about immigration, global migration and refugees, and about how these issues impact our university, the nation and the world,” he said.

Nguyen, who was born in Vietnam, fled to the United States with his family in 1975 after withdrawal of U.S forces and the fall of Saigon. After moving around the United States, the family settled in Southern California. Now a professor of English, American studies and ethnicity at the University of Southern California, Thanh focuses in his fiction on the sorrow of displacement and exile while exemplifying themes of homeland, belonging and empathy.

Nguyen’s book will help students discuss the foundational role of immigration in the nation’s history in more depth than much of the current highly politicized discourse, says Lisa Kiely, assistant dean for undergraduate studies.

“We wanted a book that makes students think and expands their perspectives,” she said. “We’re all coming from different backgrounds with different views on a variety of subjects—so how do we discuss them civilly? Being able to do this is a value here at Maryland.”

 As part of the College of Arts and Humanities Dean’s Lecture Series, Nguyen will address the campus at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 23 in the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center. At 10 a.m. Oct. 24 in Tawes Hall, the author will talk with Michael Collier, director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing. Both events are co-sponsored by the Department of English’s Bebe Koch Petrou Lecture Fund. 

Faculty and staff may pick up a copy of the book in 2110 Marie Mount Hall. New students will receive the book in the fall. For more information, visit fyb.umd.edu.

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