The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Sympathizer | Viet Thanh Nguyen | BUY BOOK

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Review By Sophie | State Street Bookstore

The Sympathizer’s unnamed protagonist is a ‘man of two minds’, the son of a young Vietnamese woman and a French priest— a descendant of the colonized and the colonizer. Due to his taboo parentage, the protagonist is unable to fit in anywhere. He was ridiculed and rejected throughout his childhood in northern Vietnam for being a ‘bastard’ and vehemently stereotyped as an ‘oriental’ during his college years in southern California.

In his adulthood, the protagonist’s identity is divided further as he plays double agent for the communist revolution. He works as an undercover spy from the ranks of the enemy South Vietnam force, serving as an important General’s right hand man in order to pass on information to his comrades. Because he spends the majority of his time as a spy, he feels dishonest and isolated, a feeling that follows him after the war as he flees Saigon with the General and his family. Although The Sympathizer’s story begins from the Fall of Saigon, the official end of the Vietnam War, the war continues for the protagonist and his countrymen even as they make their escape to the United States.

Not for the faint of heart, Nguyen’s debut novel is harsh, uncomfortable and darkly funny. The Sympathizer is unflinching in its portrayal of the horrors of the Vietnam War and its impact. It is both an exciting spy novel and a multifaceted satire about American culture, depictions of the war in western media, revolutionary politics, power, and the meaning of freedom and independence. Nguyen’s strong voice provides an under-represented perspective of the Vietnam War that is not centered on the heroism of the United States military and does not depict the Vietnamese experience as a monolith. Reading The Sympathizer is an experience that will leave you reeling and craving more.

 

ABOUT THE BOOK

The winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, as well as seven other awards, The Sympathizer is the breakthrough novel of the year. With the pace and suspense of a thriller and prose that has been compared to Graham Greene and Saul Bellow, The Sympathizer is a sweeping epic of love and betrayal. The narrator, a communist double agent, is a “man of two minds,” a half-French, half-Vietnamese army captain who arranges to come to America after the Fall of Saigon, and while building a new life with other Vietnamese refugees in Los Angeles is secretly reporting back to his communist superiors in Vietnam. The Sympathizer is a blistering exploration of identity and America, a gripping espionage novel, and a powerful story of love and friendship.

 

Sophie Devarenne is a bookseller at our State Street location. Her favorite book at the moment is The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction). She says the story is a perfect mix of captivating writing, suspense, and introspection with a cast of remarkably real and lovable characters.