The narratives that political asylum applicants tell in immigration hearings are often fragmentary, in part because people fleeing violence and discrimination are not always knowledgeable about the details of their persecution. We discuss the particular problem of narrating unanticipated events, experiences that have no precedent in people’s ordinary lives before violence. Building on earlier research on narrative coherence and trauma narrative, we describe how narrative breakdown occurs in narrative form and in the hearing interactions. We suggest that this narrative breakdown is part of a larger discourse of suspicion in political asylum hearings.

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