The Sympathizer

Viet Thanh Nguyen    Pages: 385   Published: 2015

The book: This is a story about a Vietnamese communist double agent who comes to America after the fall of Saigon. He’s an Army captain, ostensibly building a new life in the USA, but all the time he is continuing to spy and report back to his communist handler in Vietnam. This is a saga about friendship, the duality of man, and what can both divide us and keep us together. Within the plot, the truth about the role of the USA, in what Americans refer to as the Vietnam War, is explored.

You might like it because: Nguyen’s writing is masterful. Readers will be torn between empathy and repulsion for the main character. Whilst telling us the story of three friends, the author has seamlessly woven in the roles of all three sides in the war. It’ll be hard to read this without being sucked in and having your emotions take a rollercoaster ride. You’ll be thinking about this story long after you put the book down, such is its impact.

What did other people say?
“This debut is a page-turner (read: everybody will finish) that makes you reconsider the Vietnam War…Nguyen’s darkly comic novel offers a point of view about American culture that we’ve rarely seen.” –

“[An] astonishing first novel . . . Nguyen’s novel enlivens debate about history and human nature, and his narrator has a poignant often mindful voice.”                                         –   Publishers Weekly (starred, boxed review)

Awards & Recognition:
Winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
Winner of the 2016 Edgar Award for Best First Novel
Winner of the 2016 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction
Winner of the 2016 Dayton Literary Peace Prize for Fiction
Winner of the 2015 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize
Winner of the 2015-2016 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature (Adult Fiction)
Winner of the 2016 California Book Award for First Fiction
Winner of the 2017 Association for Asian American Studies Award for Best Book in    Creative Writing (Prose)

How quickly will you get into the book? By the bottom of the first paragraph I was completely intrigued by the narrator (the spy) and had to read on.

You might not like it because: Nguyen’s writing style may not appeal to everyone. He writes very detailed descriptions of places, people, and actions. Some readers may feel this is “over-writing.” In addition, he does not use quotation marks to indicate dialogue, which can be frustrating at times.

What might you read next?
You could read Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. In an interview included in the book, Nguyen said that book “influenced me a lot.”

Or you could pick up The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, which is a collection of short stories about an American platoon fighting in the Vietnam War.

Alternately, you could try The Quiet American by Graham Greene. Set in Vietnam during the war, the main protagonists are a British journalist an American spy, and Phuong, a young Vietnamese woman.

© 2019

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