2016 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction
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.
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. 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.
"Magisterial. A disturbing, fascinating and darkly comic take on the fall of Saigon and its aftermath, and a powerful examination of guilt and betrayal. The Sympathizer is destined to become a classic and redefine the way we think about the Vietnam War and what it means to win and to lose." T.C. Boyle
"Read this novel with care; it is easy to read, wry, ironic, wise, and captivating, but it could change not only your outlook on the Vietnam War, but your outlook on what you believe about politics and ideology in general. It does what the best of literature does, expands your consciousness beyond the limitations of your body and individual circumstances.” Karl Marlantes, author of Matterhorn and What It Is Like to Go to War
"Not only does Viet Thanh Nguyen bring a rare and authentic voice to the body of American literature generated by the Vietnam War, he has created a book that transcends history and politics and nationality and speaks to the enduring theme of literature: the universal quest for self, for identity. The Sympathizer is a stellar debut by a writer of depth and skill.” Robert Olen Butler, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain
"A closely written novel of after-the-war Vietnam, when all that was solid melted into air. As Graham Greene and Robert Stone have taught us, on the streets of Saigon, nothing is as it seems....Think Alan Furst meets Elmore Leonard, and you'll capture Nguyen at his most surreal....Both chilling and funny, and a worthy addition to the library of first-rate novels about the Vietnam War.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"This astonishing first novel has at its core a lively, wry first person narrator called The Captain, and his two school friends Bon and Man, as they navigate the fall of Saigon and the establishment of the communist regime in Vietnam in 1975....Nguyen's novel enlivens debate about history and human nature, and his narrator has a poignant often mindful voice.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Breathtakingly cynical, the novel has its hilarious moments; the reader will especially enjoy Nguyen's take on 1970s American life.... Ultimately a meditation on war, political movements, America's imperialist role, the CIA, torture, loyalty, and one's personal identity, this is a powerful, thought-provoking work. It's hard to believe this effort...is a debut. This is right up there with Denis Johnson's Tree of Smoke." Library Journal (starred review)
About the Author
Viet Thanh Nguyen was born in Vietnam and raised in America. His stories have appeared in Best New American Voices, TriQuarterly, Narrative, and the Chicago Tribune and he is the author of the academic book Race and Resistance. He teaches English and American Studies at the University of Southern California and lives in Los Angeles.