Book Club Hub: The Ungrateful Refugee
Is your book club looking for a new book to discuss? Try Dina Nayeri’s The Ungrateful Refugee. You can download or stream it with no holds or waitlists using the Hoopla app. Or visit one of our branches to check out a physical copy.
Aged eight, Dina Nayeri fled Iran along with her mother and brother and lived in the crumbling shell of an Italian hotel turned refugee camp. Eventually, she was granted asylum in America. She settled in Oklahoma, then made her way to Princeton University. In this book, Nayeri weaves together her own vivid story with the stories of other refugees and asylum seekers in recent years, bringing us inside their daily lives and taking us through the different stages of their journeys, from escape to asylum to resettlement. In these pages, a couple fall in love over the phone, and women gather to prepare the noodles that remind them of home. A closeted queer man tries to make his case truthfully as he seeks asylum, and a translator attempts to help new arrivals present their stories to officials.
Nayeri confronts notions like “the swarm,” and, on the other hand, “good” immigrants. She calls attention to the harmful way in which Western governments privilege certain dangers over others. With surprising and provocative questions, The Ungrateful Refugee challenges us to rethink how we talk about the refugee crisis.
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Discuss The Ungrateful Refugee
- Which stories in the book stood out most to you? Why?
- How do we form our opinions and images of what a refugee is? How can we, as readers, shift away from those perceptions to a space of openness and listening?
- What did you learn from this book that you didn’t know before—perhaps about another culture, or about the asylum process?
- Everything in this book holds such immense power. From something (seemingly) minute—like the story about the best dessert in America being a blue slushie—to such a massive tragedy as the conclusion of Kambiz’s journey, there is nothing without impact. Discuss Dina’s writing style and what it might have taken to craft a book so potent.
- As Dina expresses, ocials in each country have different expectations, concerns, and sympathies. With these varying perspectives in mind, talk about the complexity of crafting the refugee narrative.
- What did you make of Dina’s mother’s conversion and the risk it put on her family? Is there anything you believe so passionately that you would risk your own life for it, considering the danger it might pose to your loved ones?
- Did the book change your thoughts on what would constitute the necessity of flight to another land? Has it changed your viewpoint on the refugee experience in any way?
- In the book, the author talks about her favorite day as an American being the day of the jubilant citizenship ceremony. What about that day do you think was so powerful, elevating it above many other days full of confounding dichotomy? Think about your own life—what has been your own favorite day in your current country of residence? Was there any time you didn’t feel so proud of your country?
- Talk about your experience with refugees in your own community (or of being a refugee in a particular city). Do you feel your area welcomes refugees with open arms? If not, after reading the book (or from your own experience) what changes would you like to see?