And all this instability has a terrible impact on children. Violent and heartbreaking, the memoir is illustrated in black, white, and shades of rust.
The British stand-up comedian and actor narrates the rough patches on his long journey to success. He writes about the loss of his mother to cancer, his years as a London street performer, and the translation of British humor into German and Russian. As he says:. It is the masterpiece on Vietnam — and from Vietnam — that the world has been waiting for.
It is April , and Saigon is in chaos. At his villa, a general of the South Vietnamese army is drinking whiskey and, with the help of his trusted captain, drawing up a list of those who will be given passage aboard the last flights out of the country. The general and his compatriots start a new life in Los Angeles, unaware that one among their number, the captain, is secretly observing and reporting on the group to a higher-up in the Viet Cong.
He suffers when in the course of serving the general he has to participate in the elimination of exiles suspected of being communist agents. Back in Saigon, when he had to participate, even indirectly, in the torture of suspected Viet Cong for his work with the secret police, he was doubly guilty when the victim was a legitimate agent, and he could do nothing to intervene without blowing his cover.
This read totally twists you up. The career of a double agent is so far from the life of a true believer on either side of a conflict. As a reader, the beginnings of empathy for this deceptive character comes when he is tormented by the experience of ghosts of the innocent who die as collateral damage from his career. Our fate was not to be merely mute; we were to be struck dumb. This was the best part of the book for me.
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen review – a bold, artful debut
Not exactly what our captain wanted, but a fair allegory of the war itself. The mirror held up for American readers like me can be pretty powerful. No hand-washing can clean our guilt, but as a nation, we shrugged it all off: Americans are a confused people because they can't admit this contradiction. They believe in a universe of divine justice where the human race is guilty of sin, but they also believe in a secular justice where human beings are presumed innocent.
The story is brought to a dramatic conclusion in a harrowing sections in the end, which I will steer clear of any revelation. The only hint I will give is that we learn why the narrative has the flavor of a confession of sorts. As the Vietnam war stumbles to a close, America retreats and communist forces sweep in from the north. There is a rush to escape the country. Among the Americans and high ranking local military who hurry to the airbase are a top general of the Vietnamese army and his young right hand man, his captain - the hero or maybe anti-hero of this Pulitzer Prize winning novel - The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen.
The Captain is a deeply conflicted character. Seemingly loyal to the fiercely nationalistic As the Vietnam war stumbles to a close, America retreats and communist forces sweep in from the north.
Seemingly loyal to the fiercely nationalistic general he is also a spy for the communists! Of his two closest, blood brother friends one is a soldier loyal to the government, the other is his communist handler. The Captain walks an uneasy and unpleasant tightrope between practical self interest and terrible guilt at the things he has to do to maintain his cover. He sees that war is complex and multifaceted and although basically loyal to the communist cause, has some sympathy with those on all sides The Sympathiser examines the aftermath of the war from a Vietnamese point of view, it looks at those ex miliatary that landed in America - now working in car washes, fast food outlets and the black economy.
The Captain, still working with the general in Los Angeles, reports back to his handlers on these Vietnamese refugees who may one day organise and wish to claim back their homeland. The Sympathiser gave me a lot to think about, not least about the way it was written. It was a book of contradictions. Sometimes charming and funny, sometimes brutal and dark. Parts were gripping, other parts dragged. At times realistic, at others, the narrative would become dreamlike and surreal.
The airlift from Saigon is genuinely gripping and evocative I did however get bogged down in places.
The language is not always easy and I often had to look up words maybe not a bad thing The novel is punctuated by long, elegant sentences, during which, if my mind drifted even slightly, I would lose the thread and have to return to the beginning. Paragraphs were very long and included speech without speech marks sometimes confusing as the text is written as a stream of consciousness confession by the Captain ie big blocks of text without break.
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View all 58 comments. I read this book for many reasons - Pulitzer winner, and a book club pick for my in-person group. We discussed it last night, and I wanted to wait to weigh in until that discussion, but also until I had finished reading the author's non-fiction book Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War on the long list for the National Book Award as we speak. When you read the two books back to back, it is easy to see how the eleven years of research that went into the non-fiction academic treatment I read this book for many reasons - Pulitzer winner, and a book club pick for my in-person group.
When you read the two books back to back, it is easy to see how the eleven years of research that went into the non-fiction academic treatment of a book on war and memory also provided the natural breeding grounds for a biting novel about the Vietnam War. Or, should I clarify, the war we refer to as the Vietnam War, or even more often, just "Vietnam. The author claims status as a forever refugee, a product of war, his entire life trajectory a result of having to leave his home as a child.
Further Research – The Sympathizer
A curious person can learn even more about the author's perspective in this illuminating interview. In case it sounds like I am saying this is a didactic novel, I would beg to differ. The different point of view is very effective, but also necessary. Why are we only seeing the story of a war in a country not our own through the lens of war movies we make? If this topic interests you, definitely read his non-fiction work. But the entire novel is also slowly revealed as a confession, written by a central unnamed character I'm guessing his name is Viet during his time in a Reeducation camp.
These camps were real things, and the last pages are a brutal account of psychological and physical torture and brainwashing. So there is the point of view powerful , the approach confession , but the greatest element of the novel for me is the writing. Nguyen plays with the English language in a way I haven't seen.
Lettieri on Nguyen, 'The Sympathizer: A Novel' | H-Amstdy | H-Net
I don't think he would claim his background as the reason because he has been in the United States for most of his life, in fact is an English professor, among other duties. We followed our usual routine and drank with joyless discipline until we both passed out. I woke up in the perineum of time between the very late hours of the evening and the very early hours of the morning, grotty sponge in my mouth It is this clever crafting of words that kept me reading, more than the events, more than the unnamed agent antics of the central character "a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces View all 10 comments.
Mar 04, Sr3yas rated it really liked it Shelves: hall-of-fame. The winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Usually, when I write my thoughts about a story, I look for a good quote as a lead in.
Sometimes, it's hard to find such a quote, whereas in other cases, I find myself having a luxury of choosing from as many as a dozen good quotes that I loved while reading the novel. But with Sympathizer, it's just plain crazy. And at that moment, the intuition that I've read one of the well-crafted literature written was confirmed for me. Many bastards behave like bastards. Helluva Resume, My dear unnamed narrator. The story is the written confession of our leading man, penned for his jail keepers.
His confession starts with the fall of Saigon in , followed by his immigration to the USA with his commander who is a military General, his friend Bon and other escapees, all while acting as a spy and reporting to his friend in Vietcong. But With Viet Thanh Nguyen's novel, there is not a single trace of outside influence. The story belongs to the narrator and him alone.
This particular style truly made the events, emotions, characters, sentences One of the best parts of the story is when our narrator is hired by a Hollywood director to act as an advisor for a Vietnam war-themed movie. The obvious representation of natives as mere plot devices by Hollywood movies Platoon, Apocalypse now, Full metal jacket was appropriately bashed at this point and it was glorious. It was a little too abstract for me, yet true implications of the finale are fascinating.
Overall, The Sympathizer's strength lies with its stunningly constructed sentences and its unique perspective that offers something entirely new. Undoubtedly, this is a story which deserves all the accolades it received. One only needed to ask why the idealist was not on the front line of the particular battle he had chosen. Jan 16, Violet wells rated it really liked it.