The Ungrateful Refugee: What Immigrants Never Tell You


Today’s book is: The Ungrateful Refugee: What Immigrants Never Tell You (Catapult, 2020), by Dina Nayeri, a book which asks “what is it like to be a refugee?” There are more than 25 million refugees in the world today. At age 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. In this book, Nayeri weaves together her own vivid story with the stories of other refugees and asylum seekers, bringing us inside their daily lives and taking us through the different stages of their journeys, from escape to asylum to resettlement. She shows us that to be a refugee is to grapple with your place in society, attempting to reconcile the life you have known with a new, unfamiliar home. All this while bearing the burden of gratitude in your host nation: the expectation that you should be forever thankful for the space you have been allowed. Nayeri offers a new understanding of refugee life, confronting dangers from the metaphor of the swarm to the notion of “good” immigrants. She calls attention to the harmful way in which Western governments privilege certain dangers over others. The Ungrateful Refugee recalibrates the conversation around the refugee experience, by sharing the real stories of what it is like to be forced to flee your home, and to journey across borders in the hope of starting afresh.

Our guest is: Professor Dina Nayeri, who is the author of The Ungrateful Refugee, winner of numerous prizes including the Geschwister Scholl Preis, the Kirkus Prize, and Elle Grand Prix des Lectrices. Her essay of the same name was one of The Guardian’s most widely read long reads in 2017, and is taught in schools and anthologized around the world. A 2019-2020 Fellow at the Columbia Institute for Ideas and Imagination in Paris, and winner of the 2018 UNESCO City of Literature Paul Engle Prize, Dina has won a National Endowment for the Arts literature grant, the O. Henry Prize, and Best American Short Stories, among other honors. Her work has been published in 20+ countries and in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Washington Post, The New Yorker, Granta, and other publications. She is a graduate of Princeton, Harvard, and the Iowa Writers Workshop. In autumn 2021, she was a Fellow at the American Library in Paris. She recently joined the faculty at the University of St. Andrews.

Our host is: Dr. Christina Gessler, who is the creator of the Academic Life podcast. She holds a PhD in history, which she uses to explore what stories we tell and what happens to those we never tell.

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Christina Gessler

Dr. Christina Gessler is the creator, show host, and producer of the Academic Life podcast. She holds a PhD in U.S. history.
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