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The Sympathizer: A Novel (Pulitzer Prize for…

The Sympathizer: A Novel (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction) (2015)

by Viet Thanh Nguyen

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1,710806,231 (3.93)137
  1. 30
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English (74)  Piratical (1)  French (1)  Spanish (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (78)
Showing 1-5 of 74 (next | show all)
This brilliant novel is like a mash-up of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, Graham Green’s The Quiet American, Dostoevsky’s Underground Man and Brothers Karamazov, and Orwell’s 1984. The writing is fantastic; the plot interesting; the characters largely believable and engaging; and the “confession” conceit well done.

So why did I have a problem with it at various points, especially the end? I’m not entirely certain, but this is one take on my gut-reaction. It seems like the “heart” of the novel was ultimately didactic; it seems like the artistic trappings of the novel—the beautiful writing, complex characters, and multifaceted storyline—are all an attempt to make a rather specific ideological and historical point regarding the Vietnam War. In this sense, I felt a little cheated. Clearly Nguyen can write, but he seems to be using his art for a very didactic purpose. In the end, this made the novel feel too “complete." As Flannery O'Connor claimed and Dean Ready always reminded me, a good piece of fiction, while open to interpretation and literary criticism, ultimately resists a complete “interpretation.” This is because novels are art, not simple mouthpieces for the ideas of authors. It’s difficult for me to say of a novel that is clearly artistic that it “failed” at being art, but I think that’s what I’m saying.

Rating out of 10: 8.8 ( )
  petermoccia | Mar 20, 2019 |
I didn't have a great experience with this book and it's hard for me to tell whether it's the book's fault or whether the interaction I had with the author tainted it for me.

I wrote to him just before I started reading to ask him to confirm the published story about his support for an academic and cultural boycott of my country. He wrote back very politely and graciously to confirm.

I might have gone into this a little disappointed. That said it's an oddly disjointed book with some genuinely inelegant phrasing. There's a completely out of place homage to Portnoy's Complaint where our hero takes his pleasure from a squid and a brace of effectively described political assassinations. The last 20% of the book goes completely doolally with an extended torture and Communist re-education scenario.

None of it comes together very well. None of the women are written with anything but contempt - the older no-strings nympho, the General's hag wife, the manic dream pixie daughter (whom our narrator gleefully buggers after his first homicide) and the rape victim. It's all fairly retrograde.

Maybe I'm just bitter. ( )
1 vote asxz | Mar 13, 2019 |
Razor sharp writing and biting wit make this potentially grim book so readable. Examples:

Speaking of a patronizing, old white Department Chair of Oriental Studies at his college, the narrator says, “He had hung an elaborate Oriental rug on his wall, in lieu, I suppose, of an actual Oriental.”

He finds it bizarre that so many middle aged Americans seem to wear sweat clothes. "The sartorial impression was to make them, like many American adults, look like overgrown children, the effect enhanced when these adults were spotted, as they often were, sucking on extra-large sodas.”

Amazing metaphors too, like this one as the narrator is tortured with sleep deprivation, “The foot nudged me awake. I had fallen asleep for one delicious instance, as if I had been crawling through a desert and tasted a tear.”

I'm so glad I'm reading this for a book group. It's a book that definitely needs to be talked out! ( )
  badube | Mar 6, 2019 |
The Vietnam War was always a confusing muddle for me in history class and I am too young to have any first-hand memories of the conflict, so this book was fascinating on both a historical and storytelling level. The book's narrator is a man living a double life - he is the assistant to a South Vietnamese general who flees to the US after the fall of Saigon and he is a spy for the communist North Vietnamese government. As one might imagine, this double life becomes a problem for the narrator, as he seeks to protect those he cares about about the South Vietnamese while also being loyal to North Vietnam. Overall, this was a fascinating novel and one I'd highly recommend. ( )
  wagner.sarah35 | Mar 2, 2019 |
This was a very difficult book for me. First, it was about the fall of Saigon and the Vietnam War. I have never really understood the war, and the dual conflict of the narrator, being a spy for the north while working for the south, did not help my confusion. It was also difficult for me to follow the narrator, but I think that was supposed to be the case - because he didn't really consider himself to have a self-worth.
The narrator was conflicted about his identity - being the child of an European priest serving in Vietnam and a Vietnamese maid. Since he was of mixed descent, he was considered a bastard, and an outsider in his community.
War is a terrible thing, and many lives are lost fighting for independence and freedom. And what is more important than independence and freedom? Nothing!
The book is very well written, but again, the subject and the style were hard for me.
#TheSympathizer #VietThanhNguyen ( )
  rmarcin | Jan 22, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 74 (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'
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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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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Average: (3.93)
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