Guernica Magazine

Dina Nayeri: The Craft of Writing the Truth about Refugees

The writer discusses the complexity of migrants' lives in a world that demands their simplicity. The post Dina Nayeri: The Craft of Writing the Truth about Refugees appeared first on Guernica.
Photograph by Anna Leader

The day before my phone call with Dina Nayeri, I took her latest book, The Ungrateful Refugee: What Immigrants Never Tell You, to a coffee shop to finish reading it. A man sitting several feet away craned his neck as I set it on the table. He took his headphones off, his voice carrying across the restaurant. “What’s that book about?” Soon he was hovering over my table: “Isn’t ‘ungrateful refugee’ an oxymoron? We brought them here! What do they have to feel ‘ungrateful’ about?” I engaged for a few minutes and eventually the barista helped convince him to leave me alone. I held the book up while I read so I didn’t have to see his hostile expression.

That encounter was our national dialogue about refugees writ small—the boorishness, the simplistic definitions, the lack of empathy—and shows exactly the value of Nayeri’s book. argues that ungratefulness is one of many appropriate responses to the circumstances in which refugees find themselves, that there are as many reactions as there are people who wear the label of at some point in their life. And it is a critique of a system that asks refugees and other immigrants to perform themselves in order

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