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The Sympathizer (2015)

by Viet Thanh Nguyen

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,5561154,247 (3.91)179
Follows a Viet Cong agent as he spies on a South Vietnamese army general and his compatriots as they start a new life in 1975 Los Angeles."It is April 1975, 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. The Sympathizer is the story of this captain: a man brought up by an absent French father and a poor Vietnamese mother, a man who went to university in America, but returned to Vietnam to fight for the Communist cause. A gripping spy novel, an astute exploration of extreme politics, and a moving love story, The Sympathizer explores a life between two worlds and examines the legacy of the Vietnam War in literature, film, and the wars we fight today"--Amazon.com.… (more)
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» See also 179 mentions

English (111)  Piratical (1)  French (1)  Spanish (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (115)
Showing 1-5 of 111 (next | show all)
Interesting perspective but tended to get tedious ( )
  ibkennedy | May 6, 2021 |
This novel is narrated in the form of a confession by a captain in the former South Vietnamese Army, an aide to a General in the former secret police. As he tells us in the opening sentence, "I am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces." Or, as her prefers to see it, he is "simply able to see any issue from both sides," i.e. he is a sympathizer, a member of the South Vietnamese army, and a communist spy.

The novel takes us through the final days before the fall of Saigon in 1975, through the life of Vietnamese immigrants/refugees in the US. The General is involved in plots to return to Vietnam via Thailand with an army to overthrow the communist government now ruling the unified country of Vietnam. There is a lot of anger in this book, and unsurprisingly a lot of brutality. It is nevertheless an important read, and I think a necessary read to open our eyes to the Vietnam War as experienced by the Vietnamese, who call it the American War, as well as a heartbreaking exposition of the refugee experience.

My Kindle version of the book included an article by the author as well as an interview with the author, who came to the US as a refugee as a very young child. The author says his family story "is a story of loss and death, for we are here only because the United States fought a war that killed three million of our countrymen (not including over two million others who died in neighboring Laos and Cambodia)." He continues, "I felt that there wasn't a novel that directly confronts the history of the American War in Vietnam from the Vietnamese-American point of view," and that what was missing was "literature with a more critical take on what the US did in Vietnam."

I have read several books about the Vietnam War from the American pov (The Things That They Carried and Matterhorn, both excellent) as well as a couple from the North Vietnamese pov (Novel Without a Name, excellent as well), and I've long been of the view that the war was a huge mistake (I attended many anti-war demonstrations as a college student) This is the first book I've read from the South Vietnamese pov that made me realize that perhaps even the people of South Vietnam did not support this war, and it definitely exposed the immense damage was done to country, the people killed, the families destroyed, the livelihood and villages gone, the people forced into exile, and so much more.

Recommended.

4 stars ( )
  arubabookwoman | Apr 19, 2021 |
A sweeping (but not disorienting) story that shows the nuance and complexity in the already complex history of the Vietnam war. There is plenty of humor, philosophy, and suspense here also. ( )
  albertgoldfain | Apr 15, 2021 |
Told as a first person narrative, it is the story of deep conflicts surrounding the revolution in Vietnam. As an American I often refer to that as the Vietnam war. Gradually I have learned that what we used to see as the struggle between communism and Democracies is more complex. Uprisings by the many against the few are a cyclic phemomena of history. THe involvemnt of each individual is often complex.
I traveled to Vietnam more than 30 years after the U.S. withdrawal and discovered that in many ways Vietnam is more capitalistic and less regulated than the US.
THe book speaks to the challenge of thinking one can understand and fix the problems of another country - not one’s own. ( )
  waldhaus1 | Apr 11, 2021 |
There are some wonderful things about this book. I loved the description of the fall of Saigon, of life in America and the difficulties faced by the new arrivals, the filmmaking episode and the re-education centre. It gave me greater compassion for those boat people who made it somewhere new and safe. I like the humour and the no holds barred contempt of Westerners (although that was nothing new). I suppose it received a Pulitzer because of these elements.

However, I just couldn't care about the main character. For me, t he protagonist here never really managed to live - although there were moments when he almost did. The book was a hard slog because of this, and although I don't regret reading it.

Note: The Kindle edition has some glaring typos - achohol instead of alcohol, and a couple words which made no sense at all .
  KarenBayly | Apr 10, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 111 (next | show all)
...The Sympathizer is an excellent literary novel, and one that ends, with unsettling present-day resonance, in a refugee boat where opposing ideas about intentions, actions and their consequences take stark and resilient human form.
added by thorold | editThe Guardian, Randy Boyagoda (Mar 12, 2016)
 
The more powerful a country is, the more disposed its people will be to see it as the lead actor in the sometimes farcical, often tragic pageant of history. So it is that we, citizens of a superpower, have viewed the Vietnam War as a solely American drama in which the febrile land of tigers and elephants was mere backdrop and the Vietnamese mere extras.
 
Très beau roman qui raconte le parcours d’un agent secret Viêt-Cong infiltré côté américain pendant la guerre du Vietnam. L’action débute au moment de l’évacuation des troupes américaines et des Vietnamiens collaborateurs.
added by Marc-Narcisse | editLe sympathisant
 
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Let us not become gloomy as soon as we hear the word "torture": in this particular case there is plenty to offset and mitigate that word--even something to laugh at.

-Friedrich Nietzsche, On the genealogy of morals
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For Lan and Ellison
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I am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces.
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Follows a Viet Cong agent as he spies on a South Vietnamese army general and his compatriots as they start a new life in 1975 Los Angeles."It is April 1975, 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. The Sympathizer is the story of this captain: a man brought up by an absent French father and a poor Vietnamese mother, a man who went to university in America, but returned to Vietnam to fight for the Communist cause. A gripping spy novel, an astute exploration of extreme politics, and a moving love story, The Sympathizer explores a life between two worlds and examines the legacy of the Vietnam War in literature, film, and the wars we fight today"--Amazon.com.

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