The SympathizereBook - 2015
From Library Staff
Nominee for 2016 Edgar Award for Best First Novel
The unnamed narrator in Nguyen’s exceptional debut novel is working for the South Vietnamese Army, but he’s also an undercover agent for the Viet Cong. Written in the form of a confession, the novel opens with a vivid and harrowing depiction of the Fall of Saigon, a scene of chaos and desperation... Read More »
Nominee for 2016 Edgar Award for Best First Novel
From the critics
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-I am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces. Perhaps not surprisingly, I am also a man of two minds.
-Claude said to us in parting. Even God and Noah couldn’t save everyone. Or wouldn’t, anyway.
-What was it like to live in a time when one’s fate was not war, when one was not led by the craven and the corrupt, when one’s country was not a basket case kept alive only through the intravenous drip of American aid?
-I can only testify that he was a sincere man who believed in everything he said, even if it was a lie, which makes him not so different from most.
-Even if they found themselves in Heaven, our countrymen would find occasion to remark that it was not as warm as Hell.
-we were atheists who had chosen communism over God.
-I had an abiding respect for the professionalism of career prostitutes, who wore their dishonesty more openly than lawyers, both of whom bill by the hour.
-We let the hippies steal the meaning of the words “love” and “freedom,” and we’ve only just begun to fight back. That fight begins and ends in the home.
-A slogan is just an empty suit, she said. Anyone can wear it.
-. “They cannot represent themselves; they must be represented.” Isn't that what’s happening here? Marx refers to peasants but he may as well refer to us. We cannot represent ourselves. Hollywood represents us.
-The citizenry can’t sift out what is useful and good if there’s too much opinion circulating.
-I wrote onomatopoeically across the cover page of the screenplay in big black letters: AIEYAAHHH!!!
-It boils down to is who pays for the tickets and goes to the movies. Frankly, Vietnamese audiences aren’t going to watch this movie, are they?
-One could choose between innocence and experience, but one could not have both.
-… what dream do you think compelled these refugees to escape, taking to the sea in leaky little boats that would have terrified Christopher Columbus? If our revolution served the people, why were some of these people voting by fleeing?
-… a disgruntled Green Beret scrawling, I believe in God, but God believes in napalm, on his helmet …
-Movies were America’s way of softening up the rest of the world, Hollywood relentlessly assaulting the mental defenses of audiences with the hit, the smash, the spectacle, the blockbuster, and, yes, even the box office bomb. It mattered not what story there audiences watched. The point was that it was the American story they watched and loved …
-He had a Minnesotan’s admiration for resourcefulness in the face of hardship. Bred by generations of people one very bad winter away from starvation and cannibalism.
-Country music was the most segregated kind of music in America, where even whites played jazz and even blacks sang in the opera. … Beethoven’s Ninth was the opus for Nazis, concentration camp commanders, and possibly Presidents. ... Americans are a confused people because they can’t admit this contradiction. They believe in a universe of divine justice where the human race is guilty of sin, but they also believe in a secular justice where human beings are prA spy’s task is not to hide himself where no one can see him, since he will not be able to see anything himself. A spy’s task is to hide where everyone can see him and where he can see everything.
-Shamus: You hear that? Bellamy: I don’t hear anything. Shamus: Exactly, It’s the sound of peace.
-They believe in a universe of divine justice where the human race is guilty of sin, but they also believe in a secular justice where human beings are presumed innocent. You can’t have both.
More random thoughts:
-What I learned, against my will, is that it’s impossible to live among a foreign people and not become changed by them.
-Disarming an idealist was easy. One only needed to ask why the idealist was not on the front line of the particular battle he had chosen.
-The vodka, when served, was as pungent and wonderful as I had imagined it would be, the paint thinner I needed to strop down the stained, flaking walls of my interior.
-… we Vietnamese men never even bothered to ask what woman wanted. I had not even a germ of an idea what Ms. Mori wanted.
-Like us, Americans were suspicious of unfamiliar food, which they identified with the strangers who brought them.
-The restaurant was redolent with the fragrance of home and resonant with its sounds, the chatter of our native tongue competing with heartfelt slurping.
-The open secrets of the clock, naked for all to see, was that we were only going in circles.
-Nothing was so true, and yet nothing was so mysterious, for the questions of who the people were and what they might want remained unanswered.
-Revolutions begin this way, with men willing to fight no matter what the odds, volunteering to give everything because they had nothing.
-… eating a midday meal of army surplus C rations, which looked almost exactly the same entering the human body as they did exiting it.
-These men are not to be underestimated. Napoleon said men will die for bits of ribbon pinned to their chests, but the General understands that even more men will die for a man who remembered their names, as he does theirs.
-If they fail, call them fools. But if they do not fail, they are heroes and visionaries whether alive or dead.
-After all, nothing was more American than wielding a gun and committing oneself to die for freedom and independence, unless it was wielding that gun to take away someone else’s freedom and independence.
More one liners:
-Life’s a suicide mission.
-All of us --- we’re all in jail cells without bars. We’re not men anymore.
You are a soldier, so think like one. Is it better to go on this suicide mission and not come back, or is it better to go with the next wave that’s actually got a chance?
-Wars never die, I said. They just go to sleep.
-… she cursed me at such length and with such inventiveness I had to check both my watch and my dictionary.
-Did you read this? Not wanting to deprive the General of the opportunity to fulminate, I said I had not.
-We can keep mistresses but we can’t keep secrets.
-How could one disagree with something needing to be done? Something always needed doing by somebody.
-… the three of us had wasted the weekends of our youth in Saigon’s bars and nightclubs, exactly as one was supposed to do. If youth was not wasted, how could it be youth.
-Cognac made everything better, the equivalent of a mother’s kiss for a grown man …
Those American Dream:
Some of you may have heard that the Americans are a people who like to dream. It’s true, and although some say that America is a welfare state, in actuality it is a dream state. Here, we can dream of anything, can’t we, ladies and gentlemen?
My American Dream is to see once more before I die, the land where I was born, to taste once more the ripe persimmons from the tree of my family’s garden in Tay Ninh. My American Dream is to return home so I can light incense at the tomb of my grandparents, to roam that beautiful country of ours when it is at last peaceful and the sound of guns cannot be heard over the shouts of joy. My American Dream is to walk from city to village to farm and to see boys and girls laughing and playing who have never heard of war, from Da Nang to Da Lat, from CA Mau to Chau Doc, from Sa Dec to Song Cau, from Bieu Hoa to Ban Me Thuot – ...
-Would you rather I be respectable and rich? You’d be much less interesting if you were.
-Bang bang was the sound of memory’s pistol firing into our heads, for we could not forget love, we could not forget war, we could not forget lovers, we could not forget enemies, we could not forget home, and we could not forget Saigon. We could not forget the caramel flavor of iced coffee with coarse sugar; the bowls of noodle soup eaten while squatting on the sidewalk; ... the whisper of a dewy lover saying the most seductive words in our language, anh oi; ... the frantic squealing of pigs running for their lives as villagers gave chase; the hills afire with sunset; the crowned head of dawn rising from the sheets of the sea; the hot grasp of our mother’s hand; and while the list could go on and on and on, the point was simply this: the most important thing we could never forget was that we could never forget.
-I was in close quarters with some representative specimens of the most dangerous creature in the history of the world, the white man in a suit.
-But you see, gentlemen, while life is only valuable to us — I paused again, and my audience inclined toward me by a millimeter or two — life is invaluable to the Westerner.
-The young Vietnamese who are enamored of America hold the key to South Vietnam’s freedom. They have tasted the Coca-Cola, as it were, and discovered it to be sweet.
-Our teachers were firm believers in the corporal punishment that Americans had given up, which was probably one reason they could no longer win wars. For us, violence began at home and continued in school, parents and teachers beating children and students like Persian rugs to shake the dust of complacency and stupidity out of them, and in that way make them more beautiful.
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Viet Thanh Nguyen: Anger in the Asian American Novel review by Paul Tran: The author of the bestselling novel The Sympathizer talks about reshaping histories of the Vietnam War and finding humanity in the inhuman.
and NY Times SundayReview "Our Vietnam War Never Ended By VIET THANH NGUYENAPRIL 24, 2015:"
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