Babel Book Babble Sparks Spirited Discussions of Nguyen’s “The Refugees”
April 9, 2018
One of the rites of this spring in Buffalo is to meet Pulitzer Prize winner Viet Thanh Nguyen when he reads from his short story collection The Refugees at Just Buffalo Literary Center’s BABEL series on Friday, March 23. at Kleinhans Music Hall. Born in Vietnam and raised in California, Viet Thanh Nguyen explores the conflict that “lives on in the collective memory between the Vietnamese and Americans” through The Refugees, according to Harvard University Press.
SEM’s Babel Book Babble (also known as Babel Book Club) encourages the students to read excerpts from an upcoming BABEL author’s featured book and holds after-school book club discussions with dinner in the library, and provides free tickets to see the author speak. Organized by three faculty members: Betsy Bloom, Kanika Durland, and Susan Drozd and led by three student members: senior Maya Simmons, this reporter, junior Jocelyn Yang, and freshman Penny Joseph, this newly-formed book club has been preparing for Nguyen’s visit since mid-February.
While promoting reading to the whole school the club members have been engaged. “I’m glad to have this structure to let me read in these busy times and share my thoughts within a group,” said freshman Penny Joseph. Ms. Drozd thinks of the club as providing a time “without worrying about the grades, just to read and learn. ”
The first book discussion on March 5, delved into the interpretation of the figure of ghosts in “Black-Eyed Women,” from The Refugees, and the ideas of title’s intention, the figure of a character, and understanding of the culture. The second discussion of the story “War Years” was on Wednesday, March 21.
Inspired participant Shannon Shao ’19 points out an interesting connection where the narrator and his family fleeing to the Vietnamese refugee camp in the United States, which is similar to an ostrich’s head-in-the-sand reaction in dangerous situations. “It was pathetic for the family to struggle to live the shadow of the Vietnam War,” said Shannon, “it (the discussion) fired my further exploration of the conflict between Vietnam and the U.S.”
Senior Anna Ange, who will introduce Viet Thanh Nguyen during student readers’ seminar at Just Buffalo on Friday afternoon, was “thankful” to read The Refugees and the precious opportunity to introduce the author. “Within a diverse background, this book gets me to another perspective that I had never reached before,” said Anna.
Ms. Bloom spoke highly of the passionate of reading that the participants undertook. “I am pleased to see the respect they (the participants) bring the things carry on to support the community event.”
On April 20, Junot, Díaz will bring his Pulitzer Prize work The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, to end the 2017-2018 Just Buffalo BABEL series. Tickets are still available through this link. Babel Book Babble will be announcing Díaz’s book reading plan and after-school club discussion soon.