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The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
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The Sympathizer (2015)

by Viet Thanh Nguyen

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1,551746,889 (3.95)116
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English (70)  Piratical (1)  French (1)  Spanish (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (74)
Showing 1-5 of 70 (next | show all)
Nguyen's novel is the first novel about Vietnam written by a Vietnamese-American that I have read, and it is a hard read because Nguyen vividly depicts American arrogance and callousness. He also relates the refugee experience and that, too, is a painful reminder for white Americans about how poorly we have often treated those forced to come to our shores. A moving, profound book, but not a comforting one. ( )
  nmele | Aug 6, 2018 |
I'm still processing it, but I think it's a 5. ( )
  simonspacecadet | Jul 29, 2018 |
I started this one a while ago and got bored in the action spy parts in the first 100 pages so put it aside.* I picked it up again and started to like it once it got more into the character development. It’s a story of a double agent working for the Viet Cong living in LA after the end of the Vietnam war. It’s his struggle to be true to his beliefs while also questioning them that in my view earned this book the Pulitzer. I also learned of the many Vietnamese soldiers who fought on the the American side and felt abandoned at the end, something I never knew. The torture scenes are especially gruesome but in a way that shows war as a terrible weakness of human history and not glorifying it in the way the Hollywood movie does earlier in the book.

*Many of the reviews speak positively of the fast-paced spy/thriller action parts of the book. I’ll chalk up my distaste to my personal fault as a reader, similar to how I can’t sit through action movies like the Bourne movies or mission impossible movies. So if that’s something you like, you may enjoy these parts of the book. ( )
  strandbooks | Jun 26, 2018 |
The Sympathizer forces our sympathies in the first-person narrator’s direction. His exposition of a spy’s secret and challenging life endears him to us; it’s honest, funny, even charming. Set in the years following America’s pullout of Viet Nam, Sympathizer presents us with the narrative of one man’s navigation of the treachery, prejudice, and continued illusion of those who would dream of re-establishing a capitalist regime in the South.

The story’s narrator is not named, but he works for the victorious forces of Ho Chi Minh, spying on the tatters of the army of the Republic of Viet Nam. Author Viet Thanh Nguyen’s book won the Pulitzer Prize in 2016, and its theme, plot, and style give ample reason. He treats American cultural imperialism, Vietnamese cunning and venality on both sides, and the helplessness of individuals in the face of powerful historical forces, with equal ease, wisdom, and a kind of fatalistic black humor.

This is a highly engaging piece. Nguyen approaches each idea and episode with an everyman’s pluck and sarcasm. His hero dabbles in some pretty nefarious activities, but when he’s forced into schemes which result in murder, the victims haunt him throughout the rest of the book. In fact, when he returns to his homeland, a spy embedded in an ill-fated recon mission with a motley group of zealots, his capture by the Communists results in imprisonment instead of the favorable treatment he would be justified in expecting.

The book has a light framework into which it fits: in his solitary confinement, he is made to write his confession, and this book is it. He seeks to please the commandant and commissar in charge of the prison, to convince them he is true to the revolutionary cause. But his style displeases them; his decadent Western influences betray him; his consulting work on a major motion picture failed to please anyone, even when he tried to help show Vietnamese in a favorable light.

One element of this story weighs on the personal story of our narrator. He is one of three men who swore a blood oath during their early teens. One of the others fights for the capitalist side, and the other leads Communist forces trying to rebuild the south. The protagonist leads a double life: his heart is that of a revolutionary Communist, but by all outward appearances, he’s a Southern capitalist soldier all the way. In the imprisonment which covers the end of the book, the commissar ultimately brainwashes him and splinters his personality in two.

So at story’s end, he is truly riven in two, and to get on with the remainder of his life he must first find a way to heal his mind and heart. Mr. Nguyen shows stunning cleverness and aplomb with this conceit. His main character loves both sides of View Nam; he tries to reconcile the split that has reached even his own person. The love of his homeland flavors every sentence and thought here, and the pain in the face of the staggering human cost shows through in unutterable sadness. The author sings a long, loving ballad in the key of the blues for Viet Nam, and places within his protagonist all its elements: grief at the human loss, a knowing and sarcastic nudge for the human failings, and ultimately a wisp of hope. With this debut piece, Mr. Nguyen has run the table: historical sweep, thrills and skullduggery, a sympathetic, Everyman-type hero, and assured treatment of major themes. Take this up, by all means! ( )
  LukeS | Jun 14, 2018 |
Beautifully written! ( )
  nheredia05 | Jun 12, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 70 (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)
 
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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Epigraph
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'
Dedication
For Alan and Ellison
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I am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces.
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Book description
Amazon: The winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, compared by critics to the works of Graham Greene, Denis Johnson, and George Orwell, The Sympathizer is a blistering exploration of identity, politics, and America, wrought in electric prose. The narrator, a Vietnamese army captain, is a man of divided loyalties, a half-French, half-Vietnamese communist sleeper agent in America after the end of the Vietnam War. A powerful story of love and friendship, and a gripping espionage novel, The Sympathizer examines the legacy of the Vietnam War in literature, film, and the wars we fight today.
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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.

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