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The Sympathizer: A Novel
by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Hardcover : 384 pages
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1 member has read this book
It is April 1975, and Saigon is in chaos. At his villa, a general of the South Vietnamese army is drinking ...
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.
An Amazon Best Book of April 2015: Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer brilliantly draws you in with the opening line: “I am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces.” It’s thrilling, rhythmic, and astonishing, as is the rest of Nguyen’s enthralling portrayal of the Vietnam War. The narrator is an undercover communist agent posing as a captain in the Southern Vietnamese Army. Set during the fall of Saigon and the years after in America, the captain spies on the general and the men he escaped with, sharing his information with his communist blood brothers in coded letters. But when his allegiance is called into question, he must act in a way that will haunt him forever. Political, historical, romantic and comic, The Sympathizer is a rich and hugely gratifying story that captures the complexity of the war and what it means to be of two minds. --Al Woodworth
ExcerptI am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces. Perhaps not surprisingly, I am also a man of two minds. I am not some misunderstood mutant from a comic book or a horror movie, although some have treated me as such. I am simply able to see any issue from both sides. Sometimes I flatter myself that this is a talent, and although it is admittedly one of a minor nature, it is perhaps also the sole talent I possess. At other times, when I reflect on how I cannot help but observe the world in such a fashion, I wonder if what I have should even be called talent. After all, a talent is something you use, not something that uses you. The talent you cannot not use, the talent that possesses you—that is a hazard, I must confess. But in the month when this confession begins, my way of seeing the world still seemed more of a virtue than a danger, which is how all virtues first appear. The month in question was April, the cruelest month. It was the month in which a war that had run on for a very long time would lose its limbs, as is the way of wars. It was a month that meant everything to all the people in our small part of the world and nothing to most people in the rest of the world. It was a month that was both an end of a war and the beginning of . . . well, “peace” is not the right word, is it, my dear commandant?... view entire excerpt...
Discussion Questions1. What does the narrator mean when he tells us, "I am a man of two minds"? How does this statement reverberate throughout the book?
2. Comparisons of this work have been made to Joseph Heller's Catch-22, an absurdist take on World War II. Nguyen includes similar satire in The Sympathizer. One such example is this statement::
It was a smashingly successful cease-fire, for in the last two years only 150,000 soldiers had died. Imagine how many would have died without a truce!
Can you find other examples where the author employs similar satiric wit? What affect does such a stylistic device have on your reading? Does the black humor lessen the horror of the war, or draw more attention to it?
3. Talk about the conclusion of the book, which many describe as shattering. Was it so for you? How has the narrator been changed by his experiences? What has he come to learn about himself, his culpability, his identify, the war, America and Vietnam?
4. The narrator says that the war in Vietnam "was the first war where the losers would write history instead of the victors." What does he mean by that? What do you know (or remember) about the war—and how did you come to know it? How does point of view, who does the telling, alter one's understanding of history?
--courtesy of LitLovers
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