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About Paul Eggers


The Departure Lounge
Copyright © 2009
by Paul Eggers
Ohio State University Press

What happens when people land on unfamiliar moral and cultural turf? The five stories in Paul Eggers’ The Departure Lounge examine that question, focusing on characters in either voluntary or involuntary exile — men and women forced to confront their deepest emotions and beliefs, removed from familiar, comforting surroundings. In one story an academic flees his family, arriving in Africa only to find that his African host is dealing with a similar crisis. In another, an American chess hustler in Africa is forced to come to terms with his own sense of right and wrong. In yet another, an old Vietnamese man now living in California finds that his relationship with his now-dead daughter was not what he had assumed. In the story "Hey," a young chess star confronts the death of his brother in the Vietnam War. And in the final story, an aging American couple — former UN relief workers — return to their refugee-camp worksite in Malaysia, discovering what they had forgotten about themselves. In lyrical, tough-minded prose, Eggers' stories illuminate in unexpected ways the profundity of cross-cultural experiences, as well as deliver fresh insights into the complexity of identity. — from the publisher

How the Water Feels
Copyright © 2002
by Paul Eggers
Souther Methodist UP
In "The Year Five," Nguyen Van Trinh, one of the boat people who left Vietnam after the war, is living in a squalid refugee camp on Bidong Island. He is as powerless to repress his sorrow over his daughter’s death as the Malaysian administrative chief of the island is to find out who carved Trinh’s name into the wooden plank in the staff eating hut. In "Substitutes," Bridget and Owen Greef, two misfits, have been growing apart because of his obsession with chess and Bobby Fischer. They both must come to terms with the fact that they are—as a couple and as individuals—permanent outsiders. In "Anything You Want, Please," Peace Corps trainee Reuben Gill is led into the malevolent presence of long-term "jungle junkie" (and Peace Corps volunteer) Geronimo Donaldson’s companion monkey. In this alien place, Gill finds himself struggling against his own worst impulses, beginning to doubt the strength of his commitment to his stateside fiancée. — from the publisher

Eggers's stories glide from one exotic locale to the next — from Peace Corps-type burn-outs in Southeast Asia to geeky chess aficionados in Tacoma, Washington — displaced persons all, lit from within by strange flickering passions. Funny, trenchant, lyrical, and mesmerizing stories. — Marly Swick

A fresh and resonant voice. Eggers has established himself as an important writer illuminating the complexities of our ties to Southeast Asia. An outstanding book of stories. — Robert Olen Butler

Paul Eggers’s stories examine the moral arena created by the existence of refugees. Some are stories about literal refugees, those displaced in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, and about those who would help them. Others are about refugees in a metaphoric sense—people alternately bullied and bullying, exiled from sources of power, caught in moments when the familiar gives way. The author's ability to evoke milieu is outstanding — one can feel the heat, the presence of the vermin and reptiles, the oppressive rains; in the Tacoma stories, the sordid neighborhoods are alive and teeming. Characters are wonderfully rendered. What is especially striking is the author's capacity to present the intense psychological/emotional pressures under which his characters labor — usually in vain. Another virtue of the book is its topic of the boat people dramatized in four of the stories; these bring the reader into confrontation with an aspect of the Vietnam 'experience' that has received little attention and probes themes of moral anarchy and collapse. — Gordon Weaver

Eggers is a talented and ambitious writer, and this is an excellent collection. Eggers is not daunted by different cultures. His ability to bring an exotic setting to life reminds me of Paul Theroux. Settings are as vividly renderend here as they are in the best work of Graham Greene. This is a writer who almost never chooses to use shorthand. Eggers's characters are as memorable as the places he writes about. — Steve Yarbrough

Two alienated, disgruntled communities are on display in Eggers's short story collection: chess players and Southeast Asian refugees. The latter group gets most of the attention, with Eggers reprising some of the themes from his first novel, Saviors, about Americans at a Vietnamese refugee camp in Malaysia. ... Eggers's unconventional scenarios and distinctive voice are promising, and readers willing to put up with the rough patches will find some intriguing material. — Publishers Weekly

The Departure Lounge
Copyright © 1998
by Paul Eggers
Houghotn Mifflin Harcourt
Once in a rare while a novel comes along that succeeds in taking us away from home in order to show us what it means to be American. The saviors of this brilliantly witty and wise novel set in a Vietnamese refugee camp off the coast of Malaysia are, among others, a pair of contrasting Americans: the outsized, outrageous, and highly opinionated Reuben Gill, and a thoughtful, diplomatic woman named Bobbie Porkpie Sortini.
Like a feudal kingdom, the refugee camp on the island of Bidong has a law of its own that occasionally takes note of the Vietnamese but usually ignores their needs and natures. The island is home to an array of unpredictable characters — Gurmit Singh, a Sikh in charge of Bidong who is woefully in over his head; a Malaysian police captain with a power base all his own; a variety of self-important refugee workers; and, of course, the Vietnamese. Faced with this odd collection of people and the imminent decision of whether or not to close the camp, it is no wonder that Reuben and Porkpie find themselves fomenting rebellion.
Gently but firmly, Paul Eggers draws us into one of the world's most recent hearts of darkness. He writes with a lyricism rooted in the mud and smell of a refugee camp, an authenticity that can come only from personal acquaintance with such a life, and a sense of humor that can come only from surviving the experience. An antic combination of Graham Greene's The Comedians and Catch-22, Saviors is about the lure of the exotic, the clash of cultures, and the struggle between power and love.

Wow! What a debut! Eggers is a masterful writer, and this book positions him to joing the ranks of Maugham and Forster and Conrad, Paul Theroux and Norman Rush. Saviors is as funny as Twain and as dark as Stone. I gulped it down, amazed by the deftness of Eggers's style. Saviors is an enormously accomplished and entertaining novel....[I] wouldn't be surprised if this novel ends up being short-listed for all the major prizes. — Bob Shacochis
Paul Eggers seems to have learned from someone that the novelist is allowed to think, so bravo! This is a serious (i.e., not trivial), searching, painful first novel by someone as daring as he is well-informed. — Paul West
Saviors is never anything but spirited, funny and, if such a word can be used, wise. It is a lovely book, keenly perceived, original and wonderful to read. Saviors is not only a moving and entertaining novel, but also one that brings us closer to an understanding of just how the human spirit operates in the face of adversity. — Craig Nova

Maybe a book can't save the world, but it can give us real insight into what inspires people to try and, all too often, dooms them to fail. By turns elegiac, comic, personal, and political, Saviors is a tour de force. — Marly Swick

Reuben Gill of the UN High Commission for Refugees longs to be assigned to Bidong. He believes he can relive the days of his Peace Corps stint, when he was a kind of savior to the Malaysian villagers he encountered. When he does get sent to the camp, it's as a subengineer for the Sanitation Division, a disciplinary measure after he creates an embarrassing incident at a party thrown by his boss. What he finds on Bidong is complete chaos. Reuben has a hard time adjusting to life in the camp, in part because he is overwhelmed by the hopelessness of trying to make any difference. This first novel is bleak but also steeped in black humor that is reminiscent of MASH. — Booklist

A fascinating portrait of one of the great historical dramas of our time. — Kirkus Reviews

A nebraska author has written a rich, challenging, and rewarding novel that would make a good book club choice. ... It's the kind of book you want to talk about with someone else who's read it. — Nebraska Center for the Book News

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