The author's background as a fiction writer informs this readable and relatable presentation of difficult topics, but don't expect any sugarcoating—Nayeri is unflinching when it comes to the realities of refugee life. The larger notion of the refugee story is considered, and Nayeri deftly explores the balance between truth and storytelling when it comes to the expectations of both the telling and the hearing of these accounts. She helps us see beyond a person's citizenship status to recognize their humanity, most affectingly questioning whether it's necessary to remove a person's dignity in order to help them ... A much-needed exploration of the refugee experience; Nayeri's writing will be welcomed by a wide audience.
Nayeri uses her first work of nonfiction to remind readers of the pain and horrors refugees face before and long after their settlement. It is timely, as President Trump has made barring refugees from the United States a priority, and the Western world is plagued with a surge in nativism. Nayeri combines her own experience with those of refugees she meets as an adult, telling their stories with tenderness and reverence.
Blistering in its unequivocal critiques of the legal systems that keep refugees in limbo, yet strikingly layered and nuanced in its storytelling, The Ungrateful Refugee is timely, unsettling, compassionate and deeply compelling.
This is not comfortable reading, but it is compelling. In moving, poetic prose Nayeri unravels this difficult subject, never dodging troubling questions ... Nayeri’s book urges a more humanitarian response—we should welcome people because it is the humane thing to do without any expectation of gratitude.
...a searing, nuanced and complex account of her life as a refugee and of the experiences of other more recent refugees from Syria, Iran and Afghanistan. The stories are terrifying, disheartening, sometimes uplifting and definitely worth reading and meditating on ... Then there are the government bureaucracies that certify some refugees’ stories as 'believable' enough for asylum and others not so much. Through her narrative, Nayeri makes vividly clear the Catch-22 of the process, especially for those asylum-seekers who are poorer, less educated and more desperate ... Nayeri is neither a journalist nor a polemicist. She’s a storyteller who invites our moral engagement. She doesn’t write directly about the situation at the U.S. southern border, but an engaged reader will certainly infer the stark human costs of our current official attitudes and policies.
Nayeri captures the eponymous 'ungrateful refugee' best when she deals in detail. Her horror at discovering sit-down Western toilets, and disappointment at the taste of blue slushies, for example, is vivid, as if straight from the curious mind of an uprooted child ... Frustratingly, the narrative built by these 'orphan details,' as she describes them, is interrupted by lengthy, repetitive passages on what makes one’s story authentic. These reflect the perfectionism and self-loathing that has colored her immigrant experience. But while she navigates the dilemma of returning to her past through the current limbo of others, this hand-wringing simply made me impatient for the next story ... She should write more of these stories and worry less about the telling.
Dina Nayeri’s book is one of those that must be read by all who care about the survival of human solidarity ... wonderfully illuminating ... Nayeri has already written two novels and is a gifted weaver of stories ... an excellent addition to the contemporary literature of human rights.
...a thoughtful investigation ... Nayeri robustly challenges the perceived obligation on the displaced person to revoke or tone down their former identity; to assimilate, to be a 'good investment' for any country that has admitted them. It is a provocative work. The early part of The Ungrateful Refugee is richly expressive of what was left behind ... This wide-ranging, reasoned book is no polemic: its observations are self-reflective, contemplative and significant.
[Nayeri's] family’s escape from Isfahan to Oklahoma, which involved waiting in Dubai and Italy, is wildly fascinating, and even by today’s standards it remains miraculous ... Using energetic prose, Nayeri is an excellent conduit for these heart-rending stories, eschewing judgment and employing care in threading the stories in with her own. It’s a pity that some threads run thin and frayed in parts, requiring the reader to grapple with remembering who’s who. The way the book is organized — loosely by chronology and mainly by theme — could be to blame ... Nevertheless, this is a memoir laced with stimulus and plenty of heart at a time when the latter has grown elusive.
As she writes about each stage of her immigration experience, from escape to assimilation, Nayeri includes short stories of other refugees. These interludes provide some interest but lack the power of Nayeri’s own story, which she tells with raw honesty, grace, and humanity ... Nayeri interviews many refugees and those who help refugees, but she does not speak to any current or former asylum officers. Given the way the author embraces the contradictions and complexities of her own experience, her generalizations about the asylum process fall flat ... Understanding the nuance of the refugee experience is surely a valuable pursuit, and Nayeri describes it eloquently...But her granular critique of how we treat the displaced and the poor could scare anyone away from helping ... soars when Nayeri tells her own story. She deftly confronts the contradictions in her family ... a moving exploration of the lasting impact of losing one’s country.
This book’s combination of personal narrative and collective refugee story is compelling, necessary, and deeply thought and felt. Writing with truth and beauty, Nayeri..reckons with her own past as a refugee ... This valuable account of refugee lives will grip readers’ attention.
With inventive, powerful prose, Nayeri demonstrates what should be obvious: that refugees give up everything in their native lands only when absolutely necessary—if they remain, they may face poverty, physical torture, or even death ... A unique, deeply thought-out refugee saga perfect for our moment.
Novelist Nayeri...explores the plight of refugees through the prism of her own childhood escape from Iran in this provocative account ... Filled with evocative prose ... Nayeri reveals the indignities exiles suffer as they dodge danger and shed their identities and souls while attempting to find safety. This thought-provoking narrative is a moving look at the current immigrant experience.