Viet Thanh Nguyen’s “The Sympathizer”

Finally, a novel about the Vietnam War and its aftermath written by…a Vietnamese American. Reviewed not once but twice in the New York Times, Viet Thanh Nguyen’s “The Sympathizer” still deserves an even wider audience. Here’s hoping that the judges in this year’s Tournament of Books will give this novel its due.

Like all great literature, the historical events in the novel are less important than the timeless truths about war and refugees and making a life after losing everything:

“Saigon time was fourteen hours off, although if one judged time by this clock, it was we who were fourteen hours off. Refugee, exile, immigrant— whatever species of displaced human we were, we did not simply live in two cultures, as celebrants of the great American melting pot imagined. Displaced people also lived in two time zones, the here and the there, the present and the past, being as we were reluctant time travelers. But while science fiction imagined time travelers as moving forward or backward in time, this timepiece demonstrated a different chronology. The open secret of the clock, naked for all to see, was that we were only going in circles.”


“Surely we cannot be the only ones awake, even if we are the only ones with a single lamp lit. No, we cannot be alone! Thousands more must be staring into darkness like us, gripped by scandalous thoughts, extravagant hopes, and forbidden plots. We lie in wait for the right moment and the just cause, which, at this moment, is simply wanting to live. And even as we write this final sentence, the sentence that will not be revised, we confess to being certain of one and only one thing— we swear to keep, on penalty of death, this one promise: We will live!”


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