‘Black-Eyed Women’ by Viet Thanh Nguyen

The past and its long, reach into the future is expertly explored in this complex, tightly-interleaved story of a family’s escape from war-torn Vietnam. Told through the eyes of a female ghost-writer now living with her mother in America, the story begins when she’s visited by the ghost of her long-dead brother, setting off a chain of buried memories. Her past is one of ‘shattered palm trees and bomb craters. At the time, this was a normal childhood’. It’s gradually revealed that during their escape with a hundred others on ‘a fishing boat meant only to hold a fishing boat’s crew’, she evaded sexual assault only because of her brother’s bravery, an act for which he paid with his life. Both deeply political and personal, it’s a story of hauntings, and learning to move on from being paralysed by the past. It’s also about the revisionist stories we tell ourselves in order to get through life; ‘Stories are just things we fabricate, nothing more. We search for them in a world besides our own, then leave them here to be found, garments shed by ghosts’.

First published in Epoch, 64.2, and collected in The Refugees, Corsair, 2017. Read it online at Electric Literature

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