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The Sympathizer: A Novel
by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Published: 2015-04-07
Hardcover : 384 pages
10 members reading this now
13 clubs reading this now
2 members have read this book
Recommended to book clubs by 2 of 2 members
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 ...
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Introduction

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.

Editorial Review

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

Excerpt

I 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 Questions

1. 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

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

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Member Reviews

Overall rating:
 
 
  "Sensitive insights and dark humor"by LER (see profile) 11/06/18

Even when the U.S. acts in perhaps the best of intentions, negative consequences often occur. The controversial American involvement in Vietnam's civil war is no exception yet we have most often heard... (read more)

 
by rhombus (see profile) 10/30/18

 
  "Vietnam from a perspective you never saw coming"by skinnyatlas (see profile) 01/04/17

An unforgettable book that will not blend in with all the bestsellers; a clear and humorous yet intense voice from a totally different perspective.

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