Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

In this novel set during the end of the American military presence in the Vietnam war, the narrator is a man of many faces.  He is half-French, half Vietnamese.  He is the bastard of a native Vietnamese woman and a white priest, a child whose very existence is forbidden.  He grows to be a man who fits everywhere and nowhere, someone who can smile and help someone while plotting their defeat.

As the novel opens, the narrator is a Captain in the South Vietnamese army and the top assistant to the General.  Due to his placement, he is able to escape when the South falls along with the General and his family and the men the narrator picks.  They are relocated to Los Angeles and there they begin to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives.  What no one knows is that the narrator has always been a spy for the Communist government of North Vietnam and he continues to report on the refugees while in California.  He lives with his best friend, Bon, who he considers a blood brother.  But that doesn't stop him from letting Bon get caught up in a plot for the South to take back the country.  He and Bon do horrible acts for the General while he plots the General's demise.  It is impossible to nail down the narrator's sympathies and loyalties.  Does he even know the meaning of loyalty?  Or is everything up for grabs, what one does in any situation what seems most expedient at the moment?

This book has won numerous prizes.  It won six major awards, including the Pulitzer, the Edgar award for best first book and the Asian/Pacific American Award For Literature.  It was named a finalist in five competitions such as the PEN/Faulkner award and the ABA Indies Choice.  It was named on the best novels of 2016 of twenty lists, including the New York Times Book Review, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post.    Readers will enter the mind of someone who doesn't know himself who he is and what he will do to survive.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

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