📖: Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Refugees (2006)
🍸: at home
Why this book?
The Refugees is Viet Thanh Nguyen’s first collection of eight short stories about people who have left Vietnam after the fall of Saigon. Today, April 30th, is the 45th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, which spurred a mass exodus of South Vietnamese people, many of whom relocated in the US.
Based on Nguyen’s academic research and cultural critique, he presents the idea that war never dies because its memory continues to live on through its survivors, who then pass it down to their descendants.
For this reason, Nguyen’s fiction broaden the definition of what it means to be a refugee. Refugees are not just the individuals who fled from their home countries. Anyone whose life is still haunted by the memory and trauma of war and displacement is a refugee — even if they are generations away from the original emigres.
This is a provocative reframing of what it means to be a refugee, and an evocative reminder that more empathy and compassion are needed now — especially when the rhetoric of our leaders are rooted in xenophobia and closed border policies. The Refugees is a deeply human book, that give us a snapshot into the lives and memories of Vietnamese refugees, and how they continue to grapple with issues of identity, belonging, family, and loss in a new place that they need to now call home.
Why this drink?
This drink was inspired by chanh muối, an intensely salty, carbonated Vietnamese limeade made with preserved, salted limes and soda water (the crisp carbonation amps up the piquant flavors of salt, sugar, and fermented zest). Because it takes two months to fully pickle the salted limes, I developed this easy-to-make bubbly, salty, lime margarita to evoke the essence of a traditional chanh muối.
I am pairing this chanh muối inspired cocktail with The Refugees because this is a book about memory and displacement, and I associate the limeade with nostalgia and remembrance of a home that’s long gone. My mom grew up in Vietnam during the war, and when I shared my first chanh muối with her, she told me that it reminded her of her childhood in Saigon.
1.5 oz gold tequila
0.5 oz hot water at 160F
0.5 triple sec
0.5 oz lemongrass ginger demerara syrup*
half a lime, cut into wedges
1-2 small pinches of smoked sea salt flakes, to taste
1-2 oz club soda, as desired
lime wedge, mint, & smoked sea salt flakes
- muddle 4 wedges of lime (~half of a lime)
- combine all ingredients (except for club soda) & shake with ice
- pour over ice, top off with club soda, add a few flakes of sea salt, to taste
- garnish with lime wedge and mint
*Pour demerara sugar and water into a pan (using a 2:1 sugar-to-water ratio) and heat the mixture on the stove until it starts to bubble. Once tiny bubbles start to appear, immediately take the boiling syrup off the stove and pour it into the into a glass jar with thinly sliced pieces of lemongrass and freshly grated ginger. Cover the jar with airtight lid until cool.
No lemongrass? No problem – just omit it. No fresh ginger? Use ground ginger as a substitute. If you don’t have any kind of ginger, add a bit of ground black pepper to your simple syrup to give it a subtle kick – don’t go overboard as you don’t want the drink to taste too peppery.
No smoked sea salt? Regular salt will do!
Another round, please! 🥂
You might also like:
Aimee Phan’s We Should Never Meet (2004)