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. Viet Thanh Nguyen’s astonishing novel takes us inside the mind of this double agent, a man whose lofty ideals necessitate his betrayal of the people closest to him. 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.
About the Author
Viet Thanh Nguyen was born in Vietnam and raised in America. His novel The Sympathizer won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, as well as five other awards. He is also the author of the nonfiction books Nothing Ever Dies and Race and Resistance. The Aerol Arnold Professor of English and American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California, he lives in Los Angeles.
The Sympathizer is dark humor at its finest, and an expert portrayal of the duality in the life of a man “with two minds”: that of Vietnamese, and American, that of a secret agent of the Viet Cong and officer in the South Vietnamese Army. The novel is presented as a coerced jail cell confessional by a double-agent returned to Vietnam after years in the United States.
The unnamed narrator in Nguyen’s exceptional debut novel is working for the South Vietnamese Army, but he’s also an undercover agent for the Viet Cong. A man of “two faces,”, sympathetic to the Vietnamese on both sides of the conflict, he saves his derision for the Americans, especially their perceptions of Asians. Nguyen’s darkly comic take on the Vietnamese refugee experience is poignantly funny and filled with irony and insight.
As the Vietnam War and U.S. involvement come to an inconclusive end in 1975, the author perceptively portrays the conflicts which existed within the Vietnamese people. There were those who supported the United States and those who supported the North Vietnamese which created lasting wounds.