The Sympathizer

The Sympathizer

eBook - 2015
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Follows a Viet Cong agent as he spies on a South Vietnamese army general and his compatriots as they start a new life in 1975 Los Angeles.
Publisher: New York : Grove Press, [2015]
Edition: First edition.
ISBN: 9780802191694
Characteristics: 1 online resource (371 pages)


From Library Staff

2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

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 »

Best First Novel

Nominee for 2016 Edgar Award for Best First Novel

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he might just be the best American author since Raymond Chandler

Aug 31, 2019

Author was guest of Literary Arts; Laurie recommends; won Pulitzer

From Lapham's Q: "Black-Eyed Women"; also "Nothing Ever Dies:Vietnam and the Memory of War": "nations cultivate and would monopolize, if they could, both memory and forgetting."

Jun 19, 2019


May 25, 2019

Open Canon pick for June 2019

May 08, 2019

This book manages to explore all the things that were purposefully left out in your standard American high school history lesson on the Vietnam War. It does so with a rage and grace that holds everyone accountable while exploring all the liminal spaces of the following subjects: individuality vs revolution, good vs evil, and assimilation vs alienation to just name a few. The author packages this up in a narrative about a Vietnamese double agent that is often funny and at times even disturbing. It’s an overall thought provoking read from a perspective that is so often overlooked.

Feb 17, 2019

The thing about this book is... it's really good and really smart. While a single narrative, it presents a non-biased multi-perspective look at Vietnam, in war and refugee life in America and continued life in America for any Vietnamese American or otherwise. Yet the other thing about this book is... it took me a while to get into it. Maybe it's smarter than my normal reading speed.

I started it 10 days before my book club on it.. and after a week of constantly picking it up and bringing it to my reading hideouts, I was but 40 pages in. My mind just didn't tag in right away, I think a lot of that has to do with the format and style in confession form vs any clarified dialogue, spacing, paragraphs, etc. It works for the book but it took me until about page 190 to get into it in a 'don't set it down' way... and page 190 arrived 2 books and a month after book club. (oops, only 2 of the 8 women had read it by book club's date).

But after that point I finished the second 190 pages in 2 snowy days; it sheds a lot of light and doesn't shy away from ensuring the lead narrator, character and country is idolized, rather equalized. Americans often create or are taught one way and narrative, and there are so many lines and quotes from this book I'd have highlighted had I read it on my kindle. This book is a solid read and one Americans should pick up... it has me looking into much more beyond the pages, being a white American born after the Vietnam war.

Jan 23, 2019

Second time I have completed. I joined a reading challenge w/ my husband who fell behind. Still I enjoyed. Funny how other developments in ones life can effect your enjoyment of a book. I esp enjoyed seeing the US from a Vietnamese perspective. Also see US from an immigrants perspective.

IndyPL_SteveB Dec 22, 2018

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and several other awards. In 2025, when literary magazines begin making lists of the best 25 books of the first quarter of the century, this novel will be on every list. It is a novel about the Vietnam War and the Vietnamese and the Americans; but it is also a novel about all wars, and all Vietnams, and all Americas. If one of the main benefits of reading is to see the world through new eyes and to think the thoughts of someone very different from yourself, then this is a book you *must* read. It is brilliant and will alter your worldview.

The nameless narrator, simply called “The Captain” by some other characters, is a young Vietnamese man, born in Vietnam, college-educated in California, and then returned to South Vietnam. After the fall of Saigon in 1975, he returns to California. He worked with the South Vietnamese government, but he is also a Communist spy. His confused depths go much farther, though. He is a “half-breed”: -- the bastard son of a teenage girl and a French Catholic priest. And he is a “sympathizer” in the broadest meaning of that term. He is a communist sympathizer, but also an anti-Communist sympathizer, and an American sympathizer. He is forced to take sides in a world where no one knows why they are on a particular side. Back in America, his hidden and conflicted loyalties force him into impossible choices, including one which may send him back to Vietnam where no one will know which side he is really on, including himself.

This is a character you haven’t read about before. This is a cultural viewpoint you are unlikely to have encountered. Practically every sentence is one that you cannot imagine ever having been written before.

Sep 30, 2018

This is one a very few books to explore the Viet Nam war by a Vietnamese author. It is a very interesting and worthwhile book, with some sections that are captivating and others that are more philosophical. The Sympathizer is a person who is able to see many sides of a story. His story is complex - from his birth to a young and unmarried mother and an unacknowledged French Catholic priest father, to his lifelong friends Man and Bon, each on different sides of the Viet Nam conflict. I was not sure what the final message of the book was - nihilism? The power of friendship? The dangers of duplicity? Certainly the absence of the Vietnamese perspective on the history that many of us lived through keeps us in an ignorant state about our own history.

RogerDeBlanck Jul 27, 2018

The emotional charge of Viet Thanh Nguyen’s extraordinary debut novel The Sympathizer will keep your heart pounding and your blood chilled. Tim O’Brien’s story collection The Things They Carried still stands as the landmark for examining the American soldier’s perspective on the Vietnam War, but Nguyen now owns the patent for his haunting insights and revelations of the Vietnamese experience from both sides of the conflict. In this case, the unnamed narrator is, indeed, the sympathizer, a Viet Cong spy with the self-proclaimed “talent” to understand all aspects of his country’s complexity and demise. Starting with his escape on one of the last flights out of Saigon to his exile in the United States, the narrator’s story leads from one spellbinding adventure to another. Using an array of lenses, the narrator puts the politics, machinations, and history of the unmerciful war under intense scrutiny, and he gives the Vietnamese people their much-needed voice of identity and a deserved sense of nationality as he examines their unwavering strength and sacrifice. The narrator’s blistering honesty and keen intelligence combines sorrow and compassion with dark humor to deliver a sometimes shocking and an altogether breathtaking tale of tragedy and survival. Making the book all the more remarkable is Nguyen’s electric prose. His language has a lush and scintillating quality that makes for an unforgettable reading experience. Having won the Pulitzer, The Sympathizer now has its immortality, but it’s not an exaggeration to call it a masterpiece and an instant classic.

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Aug 22, 2016

The Sympathizer:
-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.

Aug 22, 2016

-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?

Aug 22, 2016

more quotes:
-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.

Aug 22, 2016

Random thoughts:
-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.

Aug 22, 2016

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.

Aug 22, 2016

One liners:
-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.

Aug 22, 2016

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 …

Aug 22, 2016

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 – ...

Aug 22, 2016

-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.

Aug 22, 2016

-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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Aug 22, 2016

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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