Winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
While the Vietnamese “sympathizer” of the story is a communist agent, he is also a man who truly sympathizes, and therefore, a man deeply torn. This makes for a powerful, many-layered work, biting in its criticism of the United States’ involvement in Vietnam without being didactic. It’s also a book that crosses genres and tones: a literary spy story, both suspenseful and intellectual, yet in one memorable sequence, a hilarious satirical set piece. Not an easy book to describe or categorize, but a profound knockout to read. The ending stunned me in a way few books do. Recommended By Lori M., Powells.com
The Sympathizer is that remarkable kind of book that tells its story on different levels and yet feels straightforward. Dark and funny, a narrator you love and dislike at the same time for his smartness and humanity and the way he both justifies and condemns himself. Viet Thanh Nguyen lets us discover a dark period of our history, the Vietnam War and its aftermath, through a different lens — from the viewpoint of a spy for the Viet Cong (albeit one who seems to fit well in the America of the 1970s). Recommended By Doug C., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
A profound, startling, and beautifully crafted debut novel, The Sympathizer is the story of a man of two minds, someone whose political beliefs clash with his individual loyalties. In dialogue with but diametrically opposed to the narratives of the Vietnam War that have preceded it, this novel offers an important and unfamiliar new perspective on the war: that of a conflicted communist sympathizer.
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.
"The Sympathizer reads as part literary historical fiction, part espionage thriller and part satire. American perceptions of Asians serve as some of the book’s most deliciously tart commentary...Nguyen knows of what he writes....[He] sets out to tell a compassionate story from the point of view of a person who, even though he took a side, could see the point of view of the other side." Jessica Gelt, Los Angeles Times
"Trapped in endless civil war, ‘the man who has two minds’ tortures and is tortured as he tries to meld the halves of his country and of himself. Viet Thanh Nguyen accomplishes this integration in a magnificent feat of storytelling. The Sympathizer is a novel of literary, historical, and political importance." Maxine Hong Kingston, author of The Fifth Book of Peace
"The great achievement of The Sympathizer is that it gives the Vietnamese a voice and demands that we pay attention. Until now, it’s been largely a one-sided conversation — or at least that’s how it seems in American popular culture . . . We’ve never had a story quite like this one before....[Nguyen] has a great deal to say and a knowing, playful, deeply intelligent voice...There are so many passages to admire. Mr. Nguyen is a master of the telling ironic phrase and the biting detail, and the book pulses with Catch-22-style absurdities." Sarah Lyall, New York Times
"[A] remarkable debut novel . . . [Nguyen] brings a distinctive perspective to the war and its aftermath. His book fills a void in the literature, giving voice to the previously voiceless while it compels the rest of us to look at the events of 40 years ago in a new light. But this tragicomic novel reaches beyond its historical context to illuminate more universal themes . . . The nameless protagonist-narrator, a memorable character despite his anonymity, is an Americanized Vietnamese with a divided heart and mind. Nguyen’s skill in portraying this sort of ambivalent personality compares favorably with masters like Conrad, Greene, and le Carré. . . . Both thriller and social satire. . . . In its final chapters, The Sympathizer becomes an absurdist tour de force that might have been written by a Kafka or Genet." Philip Caputo, New York Times Book Review (cover review)
The winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, as well as six other awards, The Sympathizer is the breakthrough novel of the year. With the pace and suspense of a thriller and prose that has been compared to Graham Greene and Saul Bellow, The Sympathizer is a sweeping epic of love and betrayal. The narrator, a communist double agent, is a man of two minds, a half-French, half-Vietnamese army captain who arranges to come to America after the Fall of Saigon, and while building a new life with other Vietnamese refugees in Los Angeles is secretly reporting back to his communist superiors in Vietnam. The Sympathizer is a blistering exploration of identity and America, a gripping espionage novel, and a powerful story of love and friendship.
About the Author
Viet Thanh Nguyen was born in Vietnam and raised in America. He is the author of the academic books Race and Resistance and Nothing Ever Dies. He is a cultural critic-at-large for the Los Angeles Times and teaches English and American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California. He lives in Los Angeles.