Monday, January 18, 2016

#3: The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Three young men make a blood pact; later one becomes part of the VietCong, another is part of the South Vietnamese army, and the third--our protagonist--lives somewhere in between in Viet Thanh Nguyen's debut novel The Sympathizer.

This is a great debut novel, written on a broad, panoramic stage but full of wry human insights about relationships. 

The novel opens with the fall of VietNam in 1975, and two of the young men narrowly escaping to America on one of the last planes out (with the help of a shadowy friend from the CIA).  After our protagonist makes a memorable visit to a movie set as an advisor--think a coded version of "Apocalypse Now"--the seeds of a dramatic return begin to form in his friend.

Both are alienated from America in ways that are both funny and terrible, and volunteer for a suicidal mission to start a new rebellion against the Communists.  The latter part of the book details their misadventures, topped with a harrowing final coda.

The Sympathizer is just a really fine, literate novel showcasing an interesting part of world history, from a different perspective than what we might typically read in the States.  I will definitely look for Viet Thanh Nguyen's follow-up work.

I was given this book by my daughter for Christmas and read it quickly.  Recommended.

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