“Rich and colorful… [Refuge] has the kind of immediacy commonly associated with memoir, which lends it heft, intimacy, atmosphere.” –New York Times
The moving lifetime relationship between a father and a daughter, seen through the prism of global immigration and the contemporary refugee experience.
An Iranian girl escapes to America as a child, but her father stays behind. Over twenty years, as she transforms from confused immigrant to overachieving Westerner to sophisticated European transplant, daughter and father know each other only from their visits: four crucial visits over two decades, each in a different international city. The longer they are apart, the more their lives diverge, but also the more each comes to need the other's wisdom and, ultimately, rescue. Meanwhile, refugees of all nationalities are flowing into Europe under troubling conditions. Wanting to help, but also looking for a lost sense of home, our grown-up transplant finds herself quickly entranced by a world that is at once everything she has missed and nothing that she has ever known. Will her immersion in the lives of these new refugees allow her the grace to save her father?
Refuge charts the deeply moving lifetime relationship between a father and a daughter, seen through the prism of global immigration. Beautifully written, full of insight, charm, and humor, the novel subtly exposes the parts of ourselves that get left behind in the wake of diaspora and ultimately asks: Must home always be a physical place, or can we find it in another person?
Dina Nayeri is the author of the acclaimed viral essay “The Ungrateful Refugee,” published in The Guardian in 2017,and the novel A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea, which was translated into fourteen languages. A graduate of Princeton, Harvard, and the Iowa Writers' Workshop, she has received a National Endowment for the Arts grant, the O. Henry Prize, and fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, Bogliasco Foundation, and several other artist residencies.
Reading Group Guide
1. Refuge examines the idea of global identity. Do you think that belonging to a certain place in the world is important? Talk about how Niloo’s identity is connected to Iran, America, and Amsterdam.
2. Immigration has been in the international spotlight for many years now. Refuge touches on the actual lives these political issues reflect; did the book change your views about immigration? How did you feel about the Iranian refugee community in Amsterdam? Do you think the situation will improve for them, or worsen?
3. The topic of family in Refuge is fraught—discuss the ways Bahman and Niloo interact. Do you think that distance hurts or helps their relationship? How could things have been different for them if Bahman had emigrated with the rest of the family? Do you think some of their love comes directly from the fact that they keep their distance?
4. The novel is framed around four visits between Bahman and Niloo, four “goodbyes.” How do you think these visits inform the rest of the story? How do they affect everything else that happens to the characters?
5. Do you think Niloo and Gui made the right decision, by separating at the end of the novel? Discuss how relationships can change and digress over time.
6. Siavash is an interesting character. He is an American, with American privilege—how does he fit within the group of Iranian refugees? Do you think this helps or hinders the group?
7. Niloo feels a constant sense of unmooring. Because she is so truly a global citizen, she often does not feel as if she has a permanent home. Do you think a sense of home can be established within people, rather than places? By the end of the book, how does Niloo’s family become her home?
8. Drug abuse is taken seriously in this novel—but it is portrayed differently from how it is in the mainstream media. How does the author show something new, through Bahman’s opium abuse?
9. How do you think Niloo’s time in America affects her view of the world? She has spent much of her life in Oklahoma; how does this change her outlook when she’s living in Europe, and when she thinks about Iran?
10. Do you think Niloo will ever go back to Iran? Why, or why not?